Subscribers | Charities Management magazine | No. 115 Summer 2017 | Page 6
The magazine for charity managers and trustees

Facing up to the skills challenges of the digital revolution

The digital revolution has transformed the lives of people and organisations around the world. The incorporation of technology into business models has enabled organisations to move from purely analogue space, to being able to connect and engage with stakeholders in ways previous generations could never have imagined.

Unsurprisingly there are different approaches to the digital revolution – it can be an opportunity to develop talent and equip employees with vital skills which will deliver value in the long term – an approach that many organisations are already investing billions in, to ensure their workforce is equipped to overcome any challenges.

The charity sector has not been immune to this revolution, and many charities have embraced the opportunity to change the way they interact with their stakeholders and donors, but many charities are still missing out on some of the key benefits of this digital sea-change.

The Charity Digital Skills Report by Skills Platform revealed that despite embracing digital, half of charities still don’t have a dedicated digital strategy. This is at a time when most charities believe that digital processes will change the industry beyond recognition, An idea that is reflected by the Government, which has also recognised the importance of digital skills, having launched its own "digital strategy" earlier this year.

This ad hoc approach to digital comes with a series of challenges including the protection of sensitive information, skills shortages and an understanding of how best to implement digital within organisations.

Overcoming barriers to digital

With over half (57%) of charities stating that a skills shortage is the biggest barrier to getting more out of digital, the need to invest in skills is clear. Despite the investment in training employees and equipping them with digital skills, there is still a clear shortage of resources, skills and understanding of the latest developments.

The report also revealed that many charities are struggling to integrate digital skills into their operations, and suggests that this could seriously threaten the future of the sector. The report also revealed that a lack of skills is a barrier to charities engaging in more digital endeavours – something the report’s authors pointed out as a terrible irony, and one that needs to be addressed to get the most out of the digital sphere.

Charities are also threatened by a lack of funding to their operation. More than two thirds (67%) of charities cite a lack of resources as a threat, and a further 53% state that their IT infrastructure needs to be improved. For one, the failure to engage digitally also means that two thirds (66%) of charities are worried that they will miss out on opportunities for digital fundraising.

Moreover, without appropriate digital skills in data management, processes and protection, charities will be left vulnerable to cyber-attacks and reputational damage. This is viewed as a barrier by almost half (45%) of charities, and it is this concern that that needs to be considered when looking at the digital revolution and the challenges small charities face.

Charities can effectively prepare for the challenges that digital poses to the sector by taking the time to build up a thorough understanding of the charity's strengths and weaknesses, adopting a strategic approach and preparing for potential risks. Measures to address the digital skills gap have been taken by charities themselves and by the Government through its Digital Strategy, where it has pledged to invest in digital skills training, including within the charitable sector.

It will take time for these measures to cut through, however, and in the short term the lack of digital skills within the sector means charities may be more prone to accidental data breaches, or vulnerable to more deliberate cyber attacks. Unfortunately, both types of incident do happen. Data might get lost or stolen, and hackers might compromise security systems. As we have seen recently across other sectors these incidents can strike at any time.

Best practice from other sectors

Despite these challenges, there are some straightforward steps charities can take to maximise potential benefits from the digital revolution, whilst simultaneously managing the associated risks.

Working together with other organisations both in the public and private sector, and learning from best practice is an excellent way to understand how other organisations are setting new digital standards in their own sector by adopting digital techniques to drive their innovation.

Studying these examples also provides charities with the opportunity to understand what works, and what doesn’t, and apply it to challenges specific to their sector. An example mentioned within the Charity Digital Skills Report noted the power of online fundraising platforms as both an awareness tool and medium to raise funds for causes.

An obvious benefit from the digital revolution are new ways of promoting charity campaigns. Previously a great campaign would have likely relied on a media partner to help build awareness. Now, the developments in social media and the growth of crowd funding platforms have made it easier to both reach out to donors and for them to donate. Indeed, the data analytics behind JustGiving or GoFundMe allow charities valuable understanding of a donor's route to specific pages, for example.

Managing digital risk

It is prudent for charities to have a crisis plan in place should something go wrong in their digital operations. This should comprise of a set of response guidelines that are clearly understood and freely available to all staff.

Whilst cyber insurance is not a replacement for robust IT security, data protection and a response plan, it can act as a safety net. A comprehensive cyber insurance policy for a charity acts as a first response and protects it from the moment a cyber or data breach occurs. Such an insurance policy would cover overall liability as well as legal, IT security and regulatory costs that may occur to contain a breach before a claim arises.

The digital revolution clearly offers charities the opportunity to embrace and evolve as organisations. It also allows access to tools that can strengthen charities and enable them to reach out to audiences and stakeholders they may previously have not been engaged with. It also comes with risks – but being aware of these risks, being ready to learn best practice from other sectors, and equipping staff with the latest training and tools are vital steps for charities to consider as this revolution gathers pace.

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