IT & Technology

Senior managers failing to support digital innovation, research finds

01 June 2015

Charities reveal that digital technology is not integrated into overall strategies

Lack of engagement and buy-in from senior management is by far the most frequent barrier to charities effectively utilising digital technology, according to a new report.

The New Reality was produced by the strategy consultant Julie Dodd, who interviewed more than 50 digital experts from charities and commercial organisations such as the British Heart Foundation, Age UK, NSPCC, the BBC, Google and Tesco.

She found that a general lack of senior engagement includes CEOs unwisely delegating all responsibility for digital technology to middle management, and trustees thinking digital is just for the young. To address the latter, she calls for charities to ensure that all boards include someone who understands digital, to educate those trustees that don't, and to give serious consideration to appointing a trustee who is under the age of 30.

Regarding strategy, Dodd says that while the development of dedicated digital strategies in recent years has been positive, this separation from the central mission has meant that digital is seen as “just another department with its own goals”. She argues that overall organisational strategies now need to “weave technology through everything - for every department and for all audience groups”.

Meanwhile, digital strategy has also been too focused on marketing and fundraising, according to Dodd. She says that while digital technology has made a valuable contribution in these areas, there is untapped potential for using it to achieve the charity's core mission - good examples of this, she says, have included delivering emergency health information on Whatsapp, and using 3D printing to produce low-cost, prosthetic limbs for landmine victims.

Lower down the chain, she found that the speed of technological change has created major skill gaps in charities, particularly in terms of data, digital strategy, lean and iterative process management, and business model innovation.

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Gareth Jones

Gareth Jones is a journalist and communications consultant specialising in charity finance. As editorial manager of Slack Communications, he co-authors Charity Financials' range of Spotlight reports and writes regularly for the Guardian Voluntary Sector Network. Previously he was editor of the Charity Finance Group's member magazine Finance Focus and senior reporter at both Charity Finance magazine and CivilSociety.co.uk

Elsewhere he writes articles and edits special supplements for the New Statesman, advises businesses and charities on their PR, blogging and digital strategies, and holds a master's degree in Public Policy from King's College London.

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