James Field, Customer Strategy Director at Smartdesc – non-profit IT specialists – comments on the Charity Digital Skills Report 2021
The Charity Digital Skills Report, now in its fifth year, is an annual report on the charity sector’s use of digital technology and an excellent barometer of support needs, digital skills, and attitudes from across the sector.
Here’s our analysis of the main themes, how that reflects what we’ve seen here at Smartdesc working with over 50 charities and non-profits during that time, and some suggestions and resources to help you move forward with your digital agenda.
The Impact of Covid-19
It is no surprise to us that over 80% of charities changed their services in response to demand and 8 out of 10 charities used digital to reach new audiences. After working with so many groups throughout the pandemic to get them online, working remotely and most importantly, to get their data secure, we saw how organisations were able to be agile and adapt quickly – it has been an amazing time for Digital Adoption and breaking down the fear of change; you can pivot quickly and there’s been some great innovation.
A lot of our work, over the last 18 months, has been around helping organisations rationalise disparate systems like DropBox, Slack, Teams, Zoom etc. into a single place to control “data sprawl” and manage devices when they are all dispersed. We put together some tips and suggestions on a blog here: Optimising Microsoft 365 for nonprofits – Smartdesc – Charity IT Blog
We know from the many large Digital Transformation projects we deliver that digital inclusion is an on-going challenge. The Digital Skills Report notes that 20% of organisations have cancelled services due to the lack of skills or tech to use them. Interestingly, many reported that it was Board or Trustees who had the biggest skills gap, but conversely are looked to for leadership in this area; quite a paradox!
We have found that there is often a perception that things are harder than they are. Once we sit down with a team, even for just 20 minutes, and simply show them a tool or an application, the fear dissolves and the interest rises. Getting your hands dirty is really the best way to break this barrier down; the excellent Microsoft nonprofit digital skills platform is a great place to start and we’ve helped customers roll out learning by introducing weekly bite-sized nuggets into their routine – “a little and often” approach goes a long way.
The report cited that over 38% of charity staff were finding remote working very challenging and isolating and just under a third of staff were burnt out from the demands of the intensity of the situation of home working. We also realised this at Smartdesc and implemented the Mind Workplace Wellbeing Index for our own team and promoted it to other organisations – we’d highly recommend looking at this for your organisation as a way to measure the wellbeing of staff and make an action plan to help improve it.
Future of work and digital plans.
At Smartdesc, we are finding that there is a positive shift towards investing in digital infrastructure and skills, and it was pleasing to see in the report that over two thirds (67%) see digital as a priority for their organisation, and (63%) are planning to invest more in digital skills. The superb Charity Digital Exchange is a great resource for charities to purchase heavily discounted software from providers such as Microsoft, Zoom, BitDefender, Adobe and more and thoroughly worth exploring.
How to build an IT & Digital Strategy
We know from years of experience that those who have a sound IT Strategy are more likely to improve their digital engagement with stakeholders. The Charity Digital Skills report states that there has been an increase in organisations who now have a digital strategy in place – now 60%. Defining their digital strategies is a key part of helping to cut IT costs, migrate to hybrid working, improve data protection and GDPR and optimise their remote working platforms such as Office 365 and Teams.
Knowing where to start, or what questions to ask, can be very daunting for organisations that have no in-house IT expertise. Our team of Smartdesc Virtual IT Directors solve that problem by providing part-time IT leadership services to help get the strategy off the ground for you, collaborating with your colleagues, understanding your aspirations, and translating that into a technology roadmap. For some we did this just as a one-off engagement to ensure they have a 3-year plan that can be signed off at Board or Trustee level, and for others we provide an ongoing service of a day or two a week to keep it moving forward at a fraction of the cost and overhead of hiring such a person in-house. Also check out our Blog over the next few weeks for an upcoming video on how to build your own IT Strategy.
Barriers to Digital Progress
It’s interesting (and slightly depressing!) to read that IT has risen to be the largest barrier facing charities who want to do more digitally. The sheer urgency of getting an organisation up and running for remote working highlighted the skills gaps and understanding of tech for many, but equally proved how staff will adapt rapidly when they need to – remember when Teams and Zoom didn’t exist?!
Achieving excellence is a journey, and it starts with the foundations. For example, the Microsoft 365 platform is arguably a best-in-breed solution, available at a very low cost, on which to build your digital house. Data can be stored and secured centrally, devices can be deployed, managed and updated wherever they are in the world, personal devices can connect securely without leaking sensitive data – all via Microsoft 365 Business Premium for £3.80 per seat per month. With those building blocks in place, integrations into other applications like CRM and telephony becomes much easier. Have a look at this example from Volunteering Matters on how they achieved this despite the challenges of the pandemic.
It is a positive step to see in the report that 62% (two thirds of respondents) state that their funding for digital has increased.
The Smartdesc team have worked with many charities on their digital transformation journey and have helped some complete the bids. The following lists some of the organisations where charities can apply for funding:
There is also a useful list of COVID-19 related funders here: https://www.cafonline.org/covid-19-support/help-for-charities#tab1
In addition, the following initiatives focus on training digital skills;
“Digital” is a buzzword and can mean different things to different people. For us, this years’ report highlights that change can be exciting not daunting, but that trying to skip to the utopia of digital excellence by purchasing something shiny doesn’t work in reality.
Investing in those foundations and getting your house in order gives you the best platform to build your digital capabilities on. Those who have consolidated onto one platform like M365 to manage most of their ICT network, have jumped years ahead of the rest.
Giving staff space to immerse themselves in some learning to get more out of their existing tools and supporting colleagues to get in amongst the tech and play with things like Power Automate or Power Apps – with a little bit of hand holding initially – allows them to get creative and see how they could easily solve a challenge without the need for yet another bit of software.
We are here to help you and would be delighted to share what other non-profits we work with have been doing and how that may benefit you. Please do get in touch for a free consultation, and I hope we can help you along the same path.
Read the full Charity Digital Skills Report 2021 here.
Author; James Field, Smartdesc Customer Strategy Director
Smartdesc is an IT Service Provider and Microsoft Gold Partner whose focus is not-for-profit organisations, which includes charities, social enterprises, and the public sector.
We prove that IT & Digital excellence does not require shareholders or vast balance sheets.
Our team supports non-profit staff with IT in plain English, trains them to confidently use technology, and implements systems that are modern, efficient, cyber secure and future-proof, no matter where colleagues are based.
Our Virtual IT Directors & Solution Architects help you design and mobilise cloud-based IT Strategies without in-house expertise; maximising investment to deliver successful and meaningful IT & Digital Transformation whilst leveraging the best available discounts and grants from the major hardware and software vendors.
We’ve built Smartdesc from the ground up to prioritise long standing, trusted partnerships with the organisations we work with, sharing best practice and innovation between them and going the extra mile above and beyond the typical reactive, passive suppliers.