Lessons from the Charity Digital Code of Practice – Principle 4: Strategy

Chair of the Charity Digital Code of Practice Zoe Amar talks with Manchester charity TLC: Talk, Listen, Change about how building digital into their strategy is saving them time and improving the quality of their services.

Guest Writer | 16th Sep 19

Throughout the year, we’ve been catching up with Zoe Amar, Charity Digital trustee and Chair of the Charity Digital Code of Practice to find out how charities are putting the Code’s principlies into practice and how it’s benefiting their cause.

In the fourth installment, Zoe speaks with Michelle Hill, CEO, and Paige Hughes, Marketing and Communications Manager of TLC: Talk, Listen, Change – a charity supporting people to have healthy relationships and emotional wellbeing in Greater Manchester, about how following the ‘strategy’ principle of the Code is helping them identify and action key improvements in their work.


Zoe Amar: How would you have described where TLC: Talk, Listen, Change were at with digital a year ago? What were the biggest challenges and opportunities that you faced?

Talk Listen Change: 12 months ago we knew what we weren’t doing, but we weren’t sure what the opportunities were. We had a list of things that we weren’t doing, for example all our case recording systems were on paper. None of our systems were integrated and everything was manual. We had an appetite for digital but we weren’t sure what to do. What we were doing was lots of digital marketing and social media, so we were looking externally but not internally. We were also doing some blue sky thinking, such as thinking about developing an app.

Digital has erupted now and everyone is doing it. Yet the funding for digital products and services is often for sexy, innovative stuff e.g. apps, robots and tech in schools. Lots of charities need money for basic infrastructure or fixing problems e.g. the donate button on their website. We also wanted to integrate and get more from the systems that we had.

> See also: Lessons from the Charity Digital Code of Practice: Lesson 2 – User led


ZA: What did you do to move things forward?

TLC: We wanted to turn our thinking into something tangible so Michelle went on the Third Sector Digital Leaders programme, following which she fed back to the team. We realised that digital should not be a separate thing but part of our organisational strategy.

We felt we needed to do something different with our data and information governance so we hired a Head of Business Intelligence, who is basically a data scientist. He has spent the last five months integrating our systems and training people to use them to the best of their ability, helping us go paperless and improving information governance. We also wrote digital into every part of our strategic plan.

We now have a digital taskforce which consists of both of us, our Head of Business Intelligence our Head of Development and Head of Counselling.

We worked with every team across the charity to map out how long work takes normally, and then identified how much time would be saved once systems were integrated. We’ve discussed with teams how saving time will further improve quality of services.


ZA: What role did the strategy principle in The Charity Digital Code of Practice play?

TLC: From the Code we really took on board that digital needs to be part of existing or developing strategy, rather than have a single “Digital Strategy” on it’s own. We were keen to look at it in practical terms e.g. how digital can help us be more efficient.

We have gone through the Code, printed it out and colour coded it according to what  we are doing already and where we could push further. We used the small charities’ best practice in the Code, but we also looked at some of the larger charity best practice too as it was interesting to compare.

Our ambition and practice haven’t always matched up and the Code made us go back to basics. It got us thinking that we should make more of the systems which we have e.g. Office 365 and Charitylog, and spend time training staff to use them better. We worked with staff to show them the benefits of using digital and how it would help them. For example, Chris, our Head of Business Intelligence identified that using our online systems more effectively would save 6 days a month of working time for our Finance Officer.


TLC: What kind of governance structure do you need in place to make progress with digital?

ZA: We now have two new digital trustees, with digital comms and data expertise respectively. We’ve got a strategic plan for the next 3 years, and are also writing a new one for 2020-2025, which includes our vision of where the charity will be, of which digital is a big part. Our strategy is signed off by the board and digital is also part of the annual business plan.

The digital taskforce own some workstreams from the strategy and various teams will run others. For example, the digital taskforce have their first sprint in November to cost up our digital transformation. Progress on the annual business plan is reported to the senior management team, and then up to the board quarterly. Anything particularly challenging in digital goes to our governance committee. We don’t have a separate digital committee.

Chris is also looking at job descriptions so that digital becomes part of everyone’s job. The digital taskforce has oversight of digital activity, for which Michelle is ultimately responsible. Our taskforce also troubleshoots, communicates changes to staff and picks up issues around training. We are moving things forward and taking lots of little steps. This will help change the culture of the organisation.


> See also: The best digital leadership resources for non-profits in the UK

TLC: What’s your advice for charity leaders who want their charities to use digital more strategically?

ZA: Take the time to understand what digital will give you. What is the benefit? Once you understand that it is almost unethical not to do something. It will also help CEOs articulate the benefits better and get buy in from their board more quickly.

Digital often gets handed to marketing, but digital should really be involved in everything across the organisation. It is important to upskill key people in the organisation, and bring in the right people.

Don’t invest in any other digital tools until you’ve made the most of what you have. For example, we now get more from our current CRM. Instead of investing in systems, get a person in who can help staff get more from your systems.

Get the speed and pace of change right. We slowed down some of the changes we were making so we could do more testing. It can be frustrating if you want change to happen quickly but it helps us get an evidence base to see what works.

Our culture is changing. It’s okay to try and it’s okay to get it wrong. We are moving towards that culture of celebrating failure a bit more and that creates positive challenge across the charity.