Ten reflections on the Charity Digital Skills Report and how free Catalyst services can help

Ellie Hale
Catalyst
Published in
7 min readJan 26, 2023

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A website banner reading ‘Charity Digital Skills Report’, with a stylised illustration of a person in front of a screen with foliage behind them.
Banner from the Charity Digital Skills Report website

I meant to publish these internal notes/reflections when the Charity Digital Skills Report, produced by the excellent Zoe Amar and Nissa Ramsay, came out last July.

Last week I was prompted to do actually get this out there thanks to the lovely Kate White of Superhighways, co-organiser of the TechSoup Connect London meetup. Their free event on Thursday 26th January (today!) will be exploring ‘Building digital skills in your not for profit organisation’, based on findings from the latest Report. If you’re London-based, check it out!

And stay tuned for this year’s Charity Digital Skills Report survey, which will be out in mid-March :)

Ten things that stood out from the Charity Digital Skills Report…

…And the free Catalyst partner-run services that respond to each trend/need:

1. Digital services continue to grow, if slightly less rapidly than in 2021

48% of charities have seen demand for digital services increase, with 48% offering new online services and 21% expanding their areas of delivery since moving online. However, this is less than in 2021, when 70% told us they’d seen an increased demand for their services and 83% had started offering online services.

While the rates of increase in demand for and creation of new digital services have slowed since the initial pandemic response, the report points to digital offers still growing to meet growing demand, with an appetite to develop, scale and improve these services still further.

So the need for support to do this (resources, peer community of practice networks and connections to digital partners), will also continue increasing.

Tools and services like CAST’s Digital Toolkit, Design Hops and the Learn Design Thinking course are excellent starting points for learning and practicing digital service design.

2. Organisations are delving deeper

The report shows a deeper embedding of digital understanding and practice. Many charities are now getting into the detail of what being ‘digitally-enabled’ actually looks like, and are beginning to prioritise crucial issues of internal infrastructure and effective, responsible data use, as well as cultural needs like wellbeing, connection and shared values across their digital work.

Keeping on top of these nuances, and seeing how other nonprofits are approaching them, can be done through attending monthly SCVO DigiShift webinars, local tech for good meetups, and signing up to the Catalyst newsletter.

3. The digital hiring boom continues

This steady growth is reflected in the hiring boom for digital, with 22% recruiting new digital roles or changing roles to include these responsibilities and 19% incorporating digital skills/ ways of working in job descriptions.

As we know, salaries in our sector are still largely not reflective of the new level of (additional) skill and digital know-how required to run a charity in a digital era.

Being unable to match private sector salaries, it’s hardly surprising that one in four charities is struggling with a shortage of good candidates. This is concerning as not getting the right people in place is a blocker to organisations’ progress.

The Digital Charities Slack, and this compilation of tech of good jobs boards by DOT PROJECT, are good places to post and look for jobs. And NCVO’s tech advice pages have helpful advice on closing the digital skills gap within organisations. But that still doesn’t solve the salary issue!

4. Internal and external capacity are both important

Overall these results indicate that whilst there is support for digital progress, organisations look to be struggling with the internal capacity to drive this forward. This is perhaps why 28% are looking for funding for core digital roles and 18% needing additional resources for someone internally to lead on digital change.

We’ve found in our work at Catalyst that three conditions for charity success in digital are 1. capacity to engage, 2. access to peer networks, and 3. access to expert support. This is backed up by the report.

Services like Digital Candle and Dovetail can support the 59% of charities that would find it very helpful to access free support from experts, and the 18% currently without a source of IT advice to help them. Dovetail has a good briefing template too.

Meanwhile there’s a list of peer networks on the Catalyst website. And capacity can be created by funders in their grant/programme design.

5. Teams and user testers need to be more diverse

A quarter lack diverse teams and user input to develop digital products and services.

This will lead to products and services that don’t adequately serve already-marginalised communities, and so replicate the harm and systemic inequity and injustice of wider society. Tackling this feels absolutely central to the sort of change Catalyst wants to drive in the sector (i.e. tech that works for everyone).

Collaborative Future is a great partner for those wanting support with more equitable recruitment. They helped recruit the Catalyst Producers.

But it obviously doesn’t stop at recruitment. Once new teams are hired, nurturing and supporting them to make sure they have a good experience and are able to influence and change the organisation where necessary (rather than have to adapt to existing cultures) is key. Folks like Held Collective (who are currently leading Catalyst’s Inclusion working group), The Better Org, Nathan Nalla, Honey Badger and Anu Priya would all be great partners to support organisations on their diversity, equity and inclusion (EDI) journeys and help teams evolve.

6. Systemic inequity needs to be addressed at a digital funding level too

For organisations supporting communities experiencing racial inequality, a greater proportion have seen their need for funding increase significantly (42%) compared to other groups and the average (33%). 34% have accessed funding for digital costs (compared to an average of 39%).

Many funders are making efforts to centre marginalised communities in their new strategies, such as the Propel partnership from London Funders. More of this!

There is clearly an acute need for digital funding that is currently not being met — especially to include core digital costs in all funding applications. And this is also a call to funders to be clearer in their guidance and support for applicants/grantees about exactly what sorts of digital work they do and don’t fund, as outlined in the Funders’ Pledge.

7. There’s a concerning lack of smart and strategic use of digital

While the number number of organisations prioritising either creating a digital strategy or integrating digital into an organisational strategy increased since the previous year, it’s worrying that it’s still less than half, at 40% average — with the number dropping even lower (a third) for small charities. This is despite 40% of respondents wanting their leadership to develop and embed a good digital strategy.

Organisations should be using insight into real needs and behaviours gained through data analytics and user research to design and improve services. The Data Collective is helpful here, as well as content from the Datawise initiative from Superhighways and DataKind, Catalyst Resources, and some specific training sessions from The Curve.

As more than one in three would like time from funders to develop their digital approach/strategy (a big increase from 21% the previous year), it seems funders may be key to unlocking a more strategic use of digital. Keep sharing the Funders Pledge!

8. Size matters when it comes to digital prowess

Only 44% of small charities have a strategy in place for digital, compared to 76% of large charities, while they have lower ability to build their own digital products, tools and services.

Of the 273 small charities surveyed, 56% are at an early stage with digital, compared to just 24% of large charities. That’s a big difference.

While large charities have seen a huge shift towards higher digital maturity levels year on year, smaller ones have lagged behind. What’s more, only 35% of those at an early stage with digital are actively planning to progress, compared to 65% of those at advancing stages.

The focus of support organisations should therefore be increasingly geared towards the small end of the sector, who are clearly struggling. Superhighways’ resources are great for small organisations.

9. Leadership is a mixed picture

36% want to grow the digital skills of their board and leadership team.

While in some organisations there’s a welcome shift towards more collective leadership in digital, in others it seems to have fallen off the radar, with more reporting no-one to push the digital agenda forwards, plus a drop in board digital skills and a fall in the number or organisations hiring a digital trustee.

Services like Digital Trustees and resources like this recent article from Zoe Amar can help boards progress, while communities of practice like Digital Charities and the Data Collective can support internal digital leaders — noting that leadership exists at many ‘levels’ of an organisation. Design Hops help bring decision-makers up to speed on the digital design process and practices like user research, by focusing on a specific problem.

10. More charities need support with keeping up to date with digital trends

More than half (53%) of respondents say they are fair and 38% say they are poor at keeping up with digital trends.

Our Catalyst Resources endeavour to respond to the areas of greatest need and interest in digital. Also other newsletters like Charity Digital and tech publications like WIRED, plus the monthly DigiShift webinars, can help keep your finger on the pulse.

And the more people who work in the open to share their explorations and learnings (through Service Recipes, weeknotes etc), the better. It helps us all learn and grow together as a sector.

Third Sector Lab runs an Open Working and Reuse Programme, or for more bitesized support you can register for “How to write about your work in 30 mins a week” on 16th March, 10 am — 12 pm.

Check out these slides for a more full list of free Catalyst services currently available, and this blog which groups them according to user need.

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Ellie Hale
Catalyst

Connecting & nurturing relationships, communities and networks at Catalyst (currently incubated by CAST). Co-organiser of several tech for good meetups.