Digital is hard. Fact. No organisation has entered into a process of transformation with the outlook that it will be straightforward. It comes with a unique set of challenges for every firm and planning ahead is the only way to be successful. However, to avoid transformation is not an option. Third Sector columnist Zoe Amar called 2018 out as the ‘tipping point’ for charities back in February, adding that she fears: ‘,.. the sector might be talking the talk, but not walking the walk.’
Furthermore, Caron Bradshaw, Chief Executive, Charity Finance Group added: ‘The potential for using technology to disrupt our work in a positive way, to massively improve outcomes, is arguably the single biggest opportunity currently offered to us as a sector.’ In other words, this ‘Golden Fleece’ is there for the taking but, as in the case of Jason and his Argonauts, the journey comes with its own series of challenges.
The voluntary sector – where is it now?
Digital adoption grew by six per cent between 2017 and 2018, taking the total number of organisations to have been through the digital transformation process and embedded it to a total of only 15 per cent. In spite of the increase in charities flying the flag for technical innovation, a mere 55 per cent of third-sector organisations have outlined their digital strategy – only a five per cent improvement on 2017.
Despite this, charities are using digital; with 31 per cent of organisations employing the tools, but not strategically, and 22 per cent claiming to have a strategy but not undertaking the transformation process. Add to this the 15 per cent who have been through transformation and things feel a little brighter.
A new resource, the ‘Why do digital?’ email programme, created by Platypus Digital, helps charity leaders to take a step back and think about their reasons for tackling digital within their organisation. Platypus MD, Matt Collins, said: ‘So we wanted to take the debate back a step, and try to answer that absolute fundamental question.
‘We strongly believe that lack of funding is the big problem. And a sector that fully understands why it should do digital will soon find that to be less of a problem.’
This is a great exercise for any executive or decision maker within an organisation to undertake when considering a transformation programme – the ‘why’ should be the starting point of any business strategy.
The road to success – direction seems clear but barriers hinder passage
Being prepared, with a strategy, also helps us to ensure we circumnavigate the bumps and blockades we might face on the road. Digital transformation comes with many potential pitfalls but establishing a clear set of objectives before you commence can help avoid these.
This year’s Charity Digital Skills Report found that the biggest challenge for organisations was ‘lack of funding’, which had seen an increase from 52 per cent of those surveyed in 2017 to 58 per cent in 2018. Recently, the government launched the Digital Leadership Fund: £1 million set aside to help charity leaders improve their digital skills. With 69 per cent of charity managers claiming that their board members have low digital skills or could improve, this is no bad thing.
The Fund has the potential to solve two problems, directly, for some organisations; it financially supports the funding of programmes, whilst also upskilling those who will, potentially, lead the strategy creation and implementation – ‘lack of skills’ being viewed as the second largest barrier to digital adoption, as identified by 51 per cent of those surveyed.
Where ‘change in culture’, ‘digital not a priority’ and ‘infrastructure needing to be addressed’ are highlighted as further blockers, having strong, informed leadership will serve to strengthen the approach to these areas, too.
Ultimately, though, digital fundraising consultant Lisa Clavering hits on a key point: ‘To drive significant change, a role is needed with enough seniority to get past roadblocks and lead decision-making. A digital team isn’t enough without a strong voice at the table to push the digital agenda and ensure it is considered holistically and as a crucial building block for the future.’
Getting started – preparing for the journey
Like that infamous piece of white paper or a blank canvas being placed in front of you, getting started on a transformation project can be daunting and, often, paralysing. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to this but Director of Digital at branding firm WJ Design, James Gadsby Peet, suggests: ‘The place to start, as ever, with people. We have to get senior leaders more confident in how digital can help their organisations achieve their goals more efficiently and more effectively.’
This is clearly significant to voluntary sector employees: 84 per cent believe it is ‘important’ to work for a charity that is actively developing its digital capabilities and skills. And with 62 per cent of voluntary sector staffers taking active steps to improve their culture there is good reason to take up this challenge within your organisation.
Interestingly, a recent study documented a rise from 22 per cent, in 2017, to 41 per cent in 2018, of Chief Executives looking to take control of transformation projects – a realm often inhabited by other executives and leaders, internally. This trend marks a substantial shift towards a top-down approach which will likely see a more strategic angle on digital that will impact organisations, holistically, rather than seeing them suffer the silo effect that only serves to hinder progress. Gartner reported that 87 per cent of senior business leaders see digitalisation as a priority and in many cases a do-or-die imperative.
Data is another key issue for charities looking to commence with a transformation project. Richard Fergie, Director of Impact at youth charity The Key, explained: ‘Data and digital transformation are closely linked. At The Key, digital transformation initially enabled us to collect high-quality data – something that was impossible with our old systems.
‘Now, data leads digital by informing and shaping our priorities as we try to adapt to a changing sector and funders with new goals.’
Use of data also throws up another key consideration: compliance. The General Data Protection Act (GDPR), which was introduced earlier this year, has become a global benchmark and has had serious implications for data usage, sharing and storage. Digital ethics and privacy impact every angle of digital, so organising your processes and policies around data before you even commence is a vital foundation exercise.
However, handling data is a clear skills gap in the sector. 62 per cent of individuals feel they have fair to low abilities in the areas of using, managing and analysing data. Furthermore, 47 per cent believe their understanding of cybersecurity to be fair to low.
The destination comes with its own rewards
When well-planned and thoroughly researched, the daunting prospect of tackling transformation can be offset by the weight of the benefits. Digital disruption has been born out of solving a particular problem for a customer or end-user. Where disruption occurs, this gives rise to a need for transformation within legacy organisations. Of course, this could be seen as a problem but actually should be seen as an opportunity: to solve a given issue that your own end-users have through digital means.
This approach can offer many rewards; important cultural changes within your organisation, the chance to learn new skills, reach a new audience, increase those all-important fundraising opportunities, better protect your contacts – all by putting your beneficiaries and donors at the centre of your organisation. Getting there can be a challenge but failure is not to start that journey at all.
As in the story of Jason and his Argonauts, the team, the tools and the intellect were how Jason achieved his goal of the Golden Fleece. The same is true of transformation. Steve Jobs, CEO, Apple once said: ‘Technology is nothing. What’s important is that you have a faith in people, that they’re basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they’ll do wonderful things with them.’ Your Fleece is there for the taking.