How digital is your charity or non-profit?

  • Successful digital projects need to be led by the senior team and trustees
  • It can be hard to know the right questions to ask to determine where change is needed
  • From digital delivery to skills within the team, we look at common questions and signpost sources of help

The phrase ‘digital transformation’ is being bandied about in charity circles at the moment – describing the process of integrating technology throughout an organisation.

For some organisations this can be ambitious and cutting-edge, for others it can be a way to get started. Of course, not all organisations need to transform, but digital is often about doing things more efficiently and it isn’t going away.

If your staff and volunteers don’t have reliable IT systems, if your supporters can’t connect with you or donate using digital, or if your beneficiaries are not receiving support online, then they will go elsewhere.

Find out more about charity digital transformation, in this video webinar by Platypus Digital.

Getting started with digital

Many start-up charities are popping up and solving problems with technology at their core.

Successful digital projects are led and owned by senior people in an organisation. Without this buy-in and support, projects lose focus and momentum.

If your CEO or charity board don’t have the skills or confidence to drive digital projects, it can be hard to get them off the ground.

As a board, it can be difficult to know where to start. How do you find out how well your organisation is doing? What are the right questions to ask and how can trustees develop their own digital skills?

We look at five main questions trustees should ask to understand the digital state of your charity.

1. How integrated is digital in what we do?

Carrying out an audit on how much of your activity is digital is a good place to start. For example, how does digital feature in your fundraising, HR, campaigning, service delivery and volunteer management? Is digital an add-on or core to your external delivery and internal processes? How is digital included in the organisational strategy or business plan?

Specific questions you might ask to get a flavour of this might be:

  • What proportion of donations are given online (own site or third-party websites such as JustGiving or eBay)?
  • What services do we offer online (such as closed Facebook support groups or mentoring schemes via email)?
  • What are our competitors doing? What other services are being used by our beneficiaries?
  • What new services are included in our strategy and what role does digital play?

The Third Sector Digital Maturity Matrix developed by Breast Cancer Care is a useful resource to assess your maturity in depth.

2. How do we use digital to communicate?

Email, social media, cloud-based work spaces, text messages, Snapchat and video conferencing are all in standard use. Find out how your charity uses these tools and map out how you communicate with staff, volunteers, supporters and beneficiaries.

  • What digital channels do we use externally and internally? Who manages these?
  • How many databases do we have, and how do these integrate with each other and connect with other digital tools (such as email newsletter systems)?
  • Is our website useful? Are we using social media effectively?
  • How do our audience want to be communicated with? What tools do they use?
  • How do we communicate internally? How does the board communicate?

3. How healthy is our digital culture?

If your staff don’t have the skills or enthusiasm for a digital project, then it will not succeed. Before starting a project, it is important to get a sense of the digital culture.

An audit can help you assess levels of use and attitudes towards digital and appetite for change. This will help you to plan how to improve skills and confidence or identify easier or more urgent digital projects.

A survey might ask questions about the frustrations staff have with IT systems, what sites or tools they use inside and outside work and their confidence using them.

NCVO’s Digital Skills Toolkit has lots of useful and free resources for assessing and building a digital culture.

4. Do we have the right infrastructure?

For many charities, especially very small ones, day-to-day technology is a fundamental challenge. Old computers, slow internet connections and expensive equipment are all barriers to using digital in a more integrated way.

Questions trustees might ask could include:

  • What is our budget for digital infrastructure?
  • Are staff using equipment which is fit for purpose?
  • Do we have databases / a good internet connection / a reliable email system?
  • Is any part of our infrastructure holding us back? Do we have the skills in-house to make improvements?

5. How can we improve our own experience of digital?

The board and CEO’s attitude towards digital is key to moving the charity forward. How can you help your colleagues to understand the role of digital? They should be included in the skills audit (as in point 3) but shadowing, workshops, guest speakers, coaching or mentoring can all be helpful and cost-effective.

Think about ways to help your board feel less fearful and more excited about the opportunities that digital can bring.

Find some help

It can be daunting to start asking these questions and difficult to know what to do with the answers. As well as using the resources listed above, it can be useful to find a person to help. CharityComms’ directory of freelancers includes digital transformation specialists.