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Digital is growing up, is your charity maturing with it? (Spoiler: probably not!)

Anya Pearson interviews Branislava Milosevic about changing attitudes towards digital in the charity sector, and the latest results coming out of her digital maturity self-assessment test.

Hello, Brani. In your work you make a clear distinction between organisations investing in digital tactics and tools on one hand, and digital strategy and culture on the other. What is the difference?

Practical things like tools are good because they’re delivering something quick and exciting. But if you have strategy in place, it’s much easier to understand how those things can bring real value to the organisation.

It’s basically the difference between a scattergun approach and a really focused journey towards your destination.

Can you tell us about your Digital Maturity Test and what it does?

The Digital Maturity Test helps organisations identify what stage of digital maturity they’re at, so that they can find out how to improve. There are 15 questions for organisations to answer about 15 different competencies. At the end they get a rating between one and five. They also get some advice about next steps. The idea is to break down digital transformation into smaller pieces which can be achieved in reasonable time frames so the whole process doesn’t feel so overwhelming.

There are a few similar tests out there. What makes yours different? I ask different people from different teams to do it – not just digital and communications teams. Each team has a different perspective, and it’s always interesting to see! Also, It’s based on my twenty years’ experience working in the charity sector, so it should work well for UK charities.

What do the results tell us about organisations’ attitude towards digital?

There is a positive trend. Attitudes are changing because some organisations are on a burning platform in terms of fundraising. They are investing because “it can’t get any worse.”

There is also more awareness that organisations need to get on with things like user journeys. But digital is often still seen as just a channel, so the focus is on the broadcast of messages, instead of dialogue.

What are some of the common issues?

Most respondents are satisfied with their technology, but when I dig into the results it’s often because they launched a new website or there was other piecemeal change. It’s not because the technology is working in an integrated way for the organisation.

An area that is really badly under-resourced and lacks strategy is training. Apart from general digital skills, like how to run a video conference, the area that is lacking is specific skills for specific jobs. If you are a PR person, apart from requiring a little black book, why not request that a new recruit has the skills to manage a brand social media account, or a strong social media following of their own? The skill that everyone needs to demonstrate is being able to start with the problem rather than the solution. That’s more of a behaviour than a skill, I suppose! But it’s very important for audience management in the digital world.

You have just released new Digital Maturity research. Can you tell us about it?

Disappointingly, the results are not that different to last year. Training is still low. Leadership is better. I think that is because senior leadership’s attitudes towards digital are changing. Lots of organisations are looking at digital strategy and internal processes at the moment. However, we still need digital leaders and upskilling in order to help guide organisations through those changes.

Digital strategist Jeanne Ross says “A digital transformation involves rethinking the company’s value proposition, not just its operations.” Do you agree?

Yes. To hit you with another quote: “digital transformation is an ability of an organisation to adapt to change itself.” Lindsay Herbert who is an inventor and digital leader at IBM said this. And the change we are talking about is the value proposition: the reason why somebody should use your products, services, or support your cause.

For example, in today’s world, the need for trade unions is huge, especially with the widespread use of zero-hours contracts. But we know that unions are failing to attract young people. This is because the language they use and how they organise isn’t based on the reality of young people today. So while the principles, goals, and objectives of unions are totally relevant, most of how they engage the workforce of today needs to change.

For many, mostly cultural reasons, this kind of change in thinking is very hard for charities to switch to. But the rest of the world (where our supporters and beneficiaries live) is moving on!

Anya Pearson is an associate at Contentious.