Digital Leadership Ltd


Thinking and reports

From scepticism to evangelism: charities’ digital maturity on the up


The results from my latest digital maturity test have just come back – hurray! As always, they are interesting to read and analyse.

The test is a self-assessment that shows all the areas of an organisation’s work that are impacted by digital transformation. There are 15 questions about 15 different competencies. The final organisational digital maturity rating is the average of ratings per competency and it ranges between 1 and 5. You can read more about the test here.

Digital maturity 2017-2019.png
The five stages of digital maturity

The five stages of digital maturity

Good news

The first thing to note is that the sector average digital maturity rating has gone up - from 2.3 in 2017 to 2.6 in 2019.

Many charities are now at level three. That means digital is still not truly embedded in everything they do but it is used as a channel in a competent, advanced and mature way. That’s a big improvement on 2017, when level two (good digital delivery) was the most common result.

I think this development is due to natural drift towards digital, but probably as much due to charities feeling they’re on a burning platform. With their income from traditional channels and audiences falling, they’re turning to new audiences and digital solutions for help.

Results from the 2018-2019 Digital Maturity Test

Results from the 2018-2019 Digital Maturity Test

Results from the 2017-2018 Digital Maturity Test

Results from the 2017-2018 Digital Maturity Test

At level four (digital integration) there’s an even representation of all sizes of organisation. I’m often asked whether smaller organisations are more capable of transformation because of their size and agility. They are certainly disproportionately represented in level five (transformed and changing). In my experience, when it comes to siloed working and internal politics, small organisations can be as complex as large ones. So the answer might actually be that they are not dragged down by legacy systems because they have always used digital-first technology.

There are more medium-sized organisations at level three than anywhere else, which is good to see. However, it’s concerning that some medium-sized organisations are still stuck at level one.   

Five trends

In an interview last year, I made the distinction between investing in digital tactics and tools on the one hand, and digital strategy and culture on the other. We can search for evidence of longer-term strategic and cultural change by looking more closely at five trends.

1. Data realness

Here’s a puzzle for you. I asked respondents: “Which statement best describes how your organisation manages and uses data for segmentation, day-to-day management and planning?” Their answers ranged from reporting that data in their organisation is scattered and largely offline, right through to being completely data-driven. My results showed that competency in data was actually much higher on average in 2017 than it is now. Why is that?

Based on my discussions with clients, it seems that people are realising their confidence in 2017 was in fact misplaced. One client I spoke to used to rate their data management highly. But once they started looking into all its different guises, they became aware of (in the words of Donald Rumsfeld) the known unknowns, which showed how much more they needed to do and investigate.

2017-19 Digital maturity test competencies and overall average rating

2017-19 Digital maturity test competencies and overall average rating

2. The GDPR hangover

The technical competency has also gone down, from 2.9 to 2.8, since 2018. The drop we’re seeing now could be explained by two things. First, the whole GDPR shebang highlighted to people that their technology was out-of-date and could not support personalised supporter journeys. Second, that some organisations were so focussed on compliance that they undermined common sense. That means that they started with the mistaken assumption that people don’t want personalised communications because of how their data is used to achieve this. Real-time engagement using data segmentation was undermined as a result.

This is a classic challenge for charities, who are naturally risk averse. Instead, charities could copy best practice within the commercial sector, all of which would better support marketing and fundraising activities.

An easy way of knowing if your data and systems are ready for real-time engagement journey is by asking yourself the following question: can you email someone who has opened an email but not donated within six hours?

3. Organisational attitudes are improving – but staff are frustrated

Organisations’ attitude to digital has shot up, from 2.8 in 2017-18 to 3.7 in 2018-19. That’s really nice to see (2017 was a little depressing, if I’m honest). It seems that we are witnessing a shift from digital scepticism to digital evangelism in some organisations.

Although my survey shows that staff experience is on the up, I know that charities could be doing so much more. My conversations with clients show that staff experience is not always prioritised. It’s 2019, and people’s expectations of digital are high; you can order a takeaway on your watch and get Alexa to turn your lights on. If their videoconferencing works inconsistently or their work laptop often freezes, staff will understandably get frustrated with that!

4. Planning is better

How organisations plan communications has improved since last year. This is very good news because many issues around silos and integration can be resolved by involving digital and other teams at the outset of communications projects. Digital is still seen as a service with some strategic influence added on, but the attitude is moving in the right direction.

5. Innovation is improving, but the type of innovation matters too

The word innovation is a weird one. It’s often used to describe the use of digital tools to deliver old purpose or develop a nice-looking digital product. This is possibly because people are being allowed to do something new using digital tools (so starting with the solution) rather than finding totally new solutions to age-old problems in their organisations.

Health and service delivery charities are an exception. Some of them are setting up innovation hubs and projects allowing them to develop digital products which are improving or delivering something new for users of their services.  For example, Samaritans are extending their support to chat so they can reach more and younger audiences, and Versus Arthritis is using AI to help answer a variety of people’s questions.

If you’d like to see where is your organisation on the digital maturity scale, take a self-assessment test. Chose a short version or more detailed version. Then get your colleagues to do it and compare and contrast.

If you have any questions or comments – get in touch!