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Pandemic sees digital development accelerate in some areas but little progress in others

Pandemic sees digital development accelerate in some areas but little progress in others

The pandemic has been the biggest cause of digital disruption this year, as charities have embraced digital more fully to continue their work. More support however is needed to overcome the key barriers to progress of lack of funding and skills.

This year’s Charity Digital Skills Report, from Skills Platform, Zoe Amar Digital, and Catalyst, heard from 429 charity professionals between March and May about how they are using digital and what this means for trends around skills, governance, leadership and strategy across the sector.

Just over half (51%) of the charities surveyed still don’t have a strategy for digital –  similar to 2019’s figure of 52%. However, says the report, there are indications that digital is an emerging priority:

“Whilst 10% of charities told us that digital is integral to their organisational strategy and embedded across their work, which hasn’t grown since 2019, 39% told us that their organisational strategy includes digital (or they have a digital strategy) and it is a priority for them. This is a positive sign.”

Acceleration in some areas

The report found that charities’ digital development has accelerated in some areas during the Covid-19 pandemic, with the crisis seeing two thirds (66%) deliver all work remotely, with 61% saying they will be offering more online services. Almost half (47%) are also collaborating or sharing learnings with others around digital, and 28% are developing virtual fundraising events.

Little progress in others

However, in other areas there has been little progress, and 21% have cancelled services because they don’t have the skills or tech to deliver them, while 15% have cancelled services because their users lack the tech or skills to make use of them online.

Overall, 1 in 5 charities rate their skills as poor across a range of areas of digital, including user needs, data, analytics, cybersecurity, digital service delivery and digital fundraising.

Digital fundraising one of weakest skills

Digital fundraising is one of the weakest skills for charities, with 45% saying that they are poor at this, and 78% saying they are fair to poor – a significant rise from 59% last year.

In terms of digital communications, social media is the highest rated skill with 32% saying they are excellent at it – up from 17% last year.

Email marketing however sees 28% rating themselves as poor and 49% as fair. Last year, 62% rated themselves as good to fair. 79% also say that they have fair to poor skills in SEO and ads. This has risen again from 58% last year.  82% also rate themselves as fair to poor at making the most of their website and analytics.

In addition, there is also a skills gap around user needs, with 91% rating themselves as fair to poor in understanding how their audience uses digital.

Challenges & barriers

Over a third (37%) say their biggest challenge to increasing their use of digital is a lack of income to invest, while for 34% it is because their audiences are not online.

Internally, the top barriers to getting the most from digital are funding, for 50%, lack of skills and competency among staff (48%), lack of confidence with digital ((47%), and other challenges seen as a higher priority (39%). Culture however is less of an issue than last year, falling from 45% to 38%, suggesting that charities see it as less of a challenge.

Most charities (66%) also rate their board’s digital skills as low or having room for improvement, down 2% from 2019, and 67% want their leadership team to offer a clear vision of what digital could help them achieve.

Action needed

In the report’s Call to Action, Zoe Amar, founder of Zoe Amar Digital highlights the need for more support.  Charities, she says, need help to develop digital strategies, while funders need to offer support for tech, software and skills development as charities adapt to the Covid-19 crisis, and make a concerted effort to help charities with digital.

Charity leaders too need to focus on developing their digital vision, with more support needed to help them with this, and trustees need to make digital a priority to enable them to make informed decisions as their charities adopt digital further during the crisis.

The full report can be accessed from the Skills Platform site.


Melanie May is a journalist and copywriter specialising in writing both for and about the charity and marketing services sectors since 2001. She can be reached via

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