Charity leaders still lack digital skills needed to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic, report warns

Two thirds of charity leaders lack, or need to improve on, the digital skills needed to ensure their organisation can adapt to challenges presented by the coronavirus, a report has found.

The Charity Digital Skills Report benchmarks the sector’s progress across digital skills, leadership, strategy and governance annually.

Its 2020 report, published this week, has found that 66% of charity sector respondents believe their board’s digital skills are either “low” or have “room for improvement.

This comes as charities are increasingly having to pivot face-to-face fundraising and service delivery online due to the coronavirus and social distancing guidelines.

Skills such as developing a digital strategy, remote working and online marketing are increasingly needed by charity sector leaders amid the pandemic.

Of those surveyed 31.5% say their board have low digital skills, although this is a 5% improvement on 2019’s figures. In addition, 34.5% feel their board can improve their digital skills, compared to 32% last year.

There are further signs of improving digital skills among charity leaders.

Around a fifth of respondents (19%) say their board is good at engaging more with digital, up from 16% in 2019.

And while only 4% describe their board as “digitally savvy”, the report points out that this is a 1% increase on last year’s findings.

The report is run by Skills Platform and Zoe Amar Digital and supported by digital skills partnership The Catalyst and digital improvement charity CAST.

Early findings released in May found that more than a third (37%) of charities have cancelled services amid the Covid-19 pandemic citing a lack of digital skills and technology.

"This report provides a valuable snapshot of the charity sector during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, highlighting a step change in the use of digital but also the significant challenges the sector has been facing in recent months,” said Tori Ellaway, Head of Digital Practice at CAST.

“A stand-out learning for us was the contrast between the growing appetite for digital services, and the gap in charities’ understanding of their respective users’ digital behaviours.

“Whilst the survey showed that 61% of charities intend to offer more digital services (with 46% looking for guidance on digitising face-to-face services), only 8% of respondents rated themselves as excellent when it came to understanding how their audience uses digital.”

Lack of diversity

The 2020 report also found that a quarter of respondents believe they need to improve diversity among staff with digital responsibilities. Among charities 18% say there is limited awareness of diversity and 15% do not know how their charity is looking to improve diversity.

Zoe Amar, founder of consultancy Zoe Amar Digital, said: “Our report reveals many charities have built up significant momentum around digital change during the pandemic and boards, in particular, have had to behave in an agile and responsive way.

“Could this approach be helpful in tackling the sector’s ongoing challenge with diversity and be the catalyst for change?

“In my personal opinion, with regards to diversity - like digital - any organisation worth its salt will continually strive to do better, so that fact that it has declined as a priority is a concern, especially considering existing sector data.

“User research and user testing needs to prioritise diversity and accessibility. This should also help charities develop better digital services, which is an additional skills gap.

“Getting leadership, trustees, skills and the right strategy working in tandem are the key factors that will unlock potential.”

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