One size does not fit all: structuring digital for your organisation

One size does not fit all: structuring digital for your organisation

Photo by  Chris Becker  on  Unsplash .

Photo by Chris Becker on Unsplash.

In the past month I’ve had several conversations about departmental structures, triggered by digital change: Do we need a digital team? Should we have a digital fundraising team and a digital communications team? How do you make sure that everyone has digital skills?

Well, it depends.

It depends on the level of digital maturity of the organisation and its appetite for change. It depends on who is overseeing digital strategy. It depends on how much hunger staff have for new digital skills.

There are different models out there which are a super-helpful starting point, but tailoring the model to your organisation maximises the chances of success.

The risks of dissolving digital

I agree with the vision behind statements like: “dissolve your digital team”, “we don’t have an electricity strategy, why should we have digital strategy?”, “decentralise digital skills” and “take a hub-and-spoke approach to digital”.

But too often they’re used to justify staff cuts of digital teams or power-grabs by senior management.

Under the guise of “everyone is digital”, digital teams can be dissolved and people with no digital skills put in charge of digital tasks such as email management; important digital functions are not covered by anyone; digital fundraising, digital marketing and digital activism or campaigning teams are formed, who “own” separate audiences.

This is as far from “everyone being digital” as it can get. It creates silos, which make it challenging to operate in an user-centered way.

It’s not a coincidence that 10 years after the hybrid model for digital was introduced as the holy grail by Communicopia, now NetChange Consulting, only 50% of the highest performing nonprofits use it. As Jason Mogus says: “It’s unclear whether this model can actually exist if the rest of the institution is highly silo-ized, politicized, and competitive. To be sustainable, support for this new type of collaborative leadership needs to come via a larger change initiative from the top that moves toward looser, more adaptive structures overall.”

This is the thing with digital. It doesn’t tolerate a siloed mentality. The real change needs to happen organisation-wide. And the change is cultural; it’s much more than just skilling up. It’s more about servant leadership, listening and collaborating than knowing how to code, tweet or use Trello.

Structure as a driver of change?

Saying that, changes in structure are sometimes helpful to send a message that the way an organisation or a department is working needs to change to keep pace.

Putting the right structure in place is never enough on its own. But it can help drive that cultural change.

These are some of the models and examples that we can learn from, and use as a basis for our perfect setups.

Hybrid by NetChange Consulting

The hybrid model is one that many organisations have tried to set up. Teams have their own digital resources and are connected to, and supported by, a central digital department who look after digital strategy.

The hybrid model is usually challenged by silos. Digital expertise is often suffocated by turf-wars and decision-making which is based on hierarchy rather than an understanding of the digital space.

This means that it often becomes more like an independent model, where each department has its own digital team and, sometimes, its own digital platforms and assets.

Another challenge is that the model is often not resourced properly: not every team has digital expertise embedded in it and the central digital team is overwhelmed. As a result these digital teams never have the chance to rise above long to-do and bug lists, are never able to develop and manage strategy or provide frameworks for planning, working and implementation. Hanna Thomas found that the digital team at was also managing IT support for colleagues!

Agile marketing teams by McKinsey

This is a model based on agile principles applied to marketing. I’ve found it too ambitious, given where most charities are. It demands a level of cultural change which few are ready for yet. But there are some useful lessons that organisations can learn from it:

  • Data analysis is at the heart of any digital operation. You analyse as you go and make improvements until you achieve better results. This chimes with my experience – I know of an organisation which worked on optimising their petition thank you page in the way it looks, reads and behaves and have increased conversions to donation from 10% to 30% in six months.

  • Agility means being prepared to tweak things as you go along. Sign-off processes in non-profits can sometimes get in the way of this.

  • A variety of technical skills is needed to execute and optimise a digital product, from setting up tracking, to maintaining digital platforms, UX and front-end development.

Most charities will struggle to recruit all the digital expertise they need in-house and will be reliant on agencies and/or freelancers. Enabling the IT team to take on some of these responsibilities can be a solution, assuming that the IT team can work at pace with marketing, communications and campaigning.

Modern Marketing Model by E-consultancy

I’ve found this model really useful to identify what skills and competencies a team should develop or recruit. Defining competencies, describing them and then identifying which ones are already covered or should be covered by existing roles, which roles need skilling up or where a new post is needed. It’s a very practical way of showing how a team or division can move from where they are now to a modern way of doing digital engagement.

Getting rid of the digital team

Last but not least is Hanna Thomas’s experience of getting rid of the digital team at

The structure ended up with is clearly very specific to them. What I found useful is Hanna’s story of how she went about coming up with this solution. She listened and spoke to a number of people and stakeholders and kept senior management in the loop with her thoughts. It really feels that the priorities she’s set and her solution were right for the organisation and the amount of change it’s ready to take on.

How does your organisation structure digital? I’d love to hear about your experience of what works or doesn’t…

Getting digital done

Getting digital done