The critical skills and funding gap for the UK charity sector
Even before the impact of Covid-19, the UK charity sector was struggling to keep up with the pace of digital possibilities and to bridge the skills gap to capitalise on them.
Covid-19 has brought all these issues to a head, from cyber security and equipment for remote working and governance, to the challenge of promoting and delivering services remotely. Charities of all sizes have been suddenly hurled into new and unfamiliar digital territory and they have realised how critical it is to their fundraising and communications - and for many organisations to their very mission.
It has also revealed the very real digital divide in the UK from service users to organisations. Digital nation we are not and our charities are seeing the stresses of that.
The 2020 Charity Digital Skills Report (https://www.skillsplatform.org/uploads/charity_digital_skills_report_2020.pdf) the hugely-useful and well-researched 4th annual survey from Skills Platform and Zoe Amah Digital, has captured a true moment in time. Perhaps the most shocking statistic is that 87% rate their understanding of what digital is and how to apply it as fair of poor. This has INCREASED from last year’s 53% - the trends are going the wrong way.
The stark reality is that:
Over half of the UK charities in the survey had no digital strategy in place.
82% rate themselves as fair or poor in making the most of their website and analytics.
Over three quarters of charities rate themselves as fair or poor in their use of digital channels such as email marketing and how to optimise online searches and advertising.
Finally, remembering that digital is also about internal communications and resources, 70% of charities rate themselves as fair or poor in even basic skills here, saying that they know they are not using software available in mainstream packages such as Google Docs and Microsoft Office effectively.
Charities do want to address this though and are urgently trying to secure the resources to do this:
Half want to develop their digital presence and 45% to improve it.
41% of charities want to fundraise digitally and recognise that they are missing out on so many donors and supporters if they don’t have this or fail to use it effectively.
Half of all charities cite lack of funding as the biggest barrier to getting more from digital
48% identify staff skills as the second biggest barrier and 47% organisational lack of confidence
20% have received funding to improve their online presence - including many organisations taking a first leap from paper based systems.
We have launched our social enterprise, Empowering Charities, with this context in mind and with a package which includes support to get you rapidly briefed and equipped with a digital plan that you can deliver and manage whatever your size. The world of digital can seem like an inaccessible one and one which is dominated by larger and well-resourced organisations. The first step is to map out your needs, to help you identify and secure the resources to make your digital presence authentic and successful, and to support you in your fundraising and communications, externally and internally.
Your digital presence will likely be the first thing that a potential funder will look at or someone in need of your services or someone helping them. The concerns and pressures outlined in the Skills Report are probably familiar to you. The route to digital confidence and success - for your organisation and those who need your service and support - is about understanding your needs, how to secure resources for these essential developments, and how to develop and enhance the skills and tools to sustain your organisation.
Digital is not a luxury, it is critical to the recovery, resilience and sustainability of the charity sector in the UK. We need urgently to direct funding and advice to supporting our network of small to medium sized charities to get the tools and skills they need to communicate the great work they are delivering on the frontlines.