Eastside Primetimers is a management consultancy with a difference.

Working exclusively on behalf of not-for-profits, we provide professional support for CEOs and Boards who are seeking to transform their organisations to be fit for the future.

Digital strategy: Seven tips for your charity

Digital strategy: Seven tips for your charity

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Is your charity making the most of today’s technologies? Eastside Primetimers digital consultant Steve Calcott provides seven top tips to ensure that you’ve got digital embedded in your strategy to better meet the needs of all of your stakeholders. Contact Digital Consultant Steve today to start a conversation.

Having a clear digital strategy is essential for charities today – it’s about making the best use of technology as part of your overall strategy. Your digital strategy should be aligned with you vision, goals and mission, and it can bring new opportunities to maximise your social impact as well as your income streams. Technology can also open up completely new possibilities, transforming the way that your charity interacts with its stakeholders – not only beneficiaries, but also staff, volunteers, policymakers and the public.

However, many charities find this a real challenge. In a recent report, 63% of charities said that they didn’t have a digital strategy (or much digital in their strategy).

The key, we believe, is to not be overwhelmed by the task, but to start small. You’ll also need the right people on board. Here are some insights to get your charity’s digital strategy up and running.

1. Think big but start small

You’ll need a vision and an end-goal, but find something feasible to start with.

So many programmes either fail because they try to take on too much at once, or never get off the ground because the total costs look prohibitive. A useful example to bear in mind is the huge NHS rollout of Electronic Health Records – intended to be the largest civil IT project in the world – which became a byword for failure.

This was essentially because central planners bit off more than they could chew with a “big bang” approach, instead of making use of what we can call “evolutionary acquisition” where stakeholders on the ground gradually implement and improve more complex IT systems.

Within the not-for-profit sector itself, at Eastside Primetimers we sometimes see organisations pull back from promising digital schemes in the early stages because the programme of work began to look too big. Taking things in steps can be a helpful way to start out. It’s best to find a small, achievable outcome and learn from it. Fail fast – and use the things that don’t work to improve and refine your subsequent plans.

2. Learn from others

Talk to other organisations of a similar size and nature and find out how they got where they did, whether good or bad. Every experience is different but there are always common pitfalls.

It can be helpful to seek out networks, events and forums – online or in real-life – that will link to up with other organisations grappling with the same questions. For example, Digital Charities is a group of over 900 people working in and for not-for-profit organisations who share knowledge through face-to-face meetings as well as via Slack and social media.

3. Know how you’ll measure success

Set targets and define a way of measuring your return on investment, just as for other business areas. Measure this regularly and don’t wait until the end of the project to find out whether things are on track.

If you can’t justify spending big in one go – don’t (see point number 1: Start small).

4. Work with the right people

Often the people tasked with driving such projects forward in charities don’t have enough dedicated time and/or aren’t experienced in what is needed. Make you have someone who understands – and believes in – both your culture and the digital landscape on your staff or on your board. Janet Thorne talks about the importance of this to Reach Volunteering in our interview.

There’s a heap of companies out there trying to sell services and they all have a role to play, but ensure you have someone on-side, either internally or someone external you’ve successfully worked with before, who knows how to speak the right language and ensures your organisation is getting what it needs.

Reach Volunteering can help charities to recruit digital trustees, a rare skillset which can often be hard to find.

Start by getting someone you trust to help with any larger procurement. Again – start small.

5. Ensure your users are onboard

Who will be using whatever you implement? Make sure they have a say throughout the project, for example, by ensuring they are included when you’re deciding requirements or approving designs, rather than delivering to them at the end only to be met with grumbles. Trust in user-led design, rather than being dictated to by your technical choices. Be aware that being user-led is the second principle of the Charity Digital Code: “Charities should make the needs and behaviours of beneficiaries and other stakeholders the starting point for everything they do digitally”.

As Chris Martin from The Mix points out, keeping a close eye on the behaviour of the young people who use the charity’s services enables the team to quickly develop new services to meet their fast-changing needs. 

Think about how simple things have become at home with devices such as smart TVs, smartphones and social media, and use those to give you inspiration about how you can make your services more usable. For example, the government has begun experimenting with allowing citizens to access information via Alexa and Google Home.

Don’t forget your internal systems too – they rarely get as much design attention as public-facing services.

6. Don’t stop

Whilst it would be great to see successful delivery of your programme of work as being the end of the process, it rarely is. Keep improving and listening to your users or beneficiaries who encounter problems. Check your usage data to see where services aren’t working well enough or where they might be confusing.

Try not to solely focus on doing big projects every five years, instead, steadily improve parts when needed. This can involve testing and learning though user-centred processes, redesigning your digital offer with input from your staff and core beneficiaries, but it can also come from new software innovations, legislation and other sources of inspiration.

7. Celebrate success

Finally, tell everyone about progress and revel in your successes throughout the project, including making sure all of those working on and influencing the project get recognition.

Then be willing to help others learn from your experiences. Tell your users, your peers or even the public about your progress and revel in your successes throughout the project. Carolyn Nutkins from Parkinson’s UK, for example, has been generous in sharing how the charity has sought to made digital central to everyone’s job at the charity in order to better support its beneficiaries (see Number 2 in our Ten of the Best selection). This can inspire new ideas from unexpected places and also helps others who may be trying to attempt the same thing.

Leader interview: Digital transformation doubles impact for Reach

Leader interview: Digital transformation doubles impact for Reach

10 of the best: Charity digital resources