Why we need a charity digital code of practice

This guest blog is written by Zoe Amar, founder of Zoe Amar Digital.

Over the last year we’ve seen a growing number of reports about how charities are struggling with digital. The latest Lloyds Bank’s UK Business Digital Index revealed that more than 100,000 charities do not have basic digital skills, whilst the number of charities with low digital capabilities has grown from 12% to 16%.

That same report showed that 50% of charity leaders lack confidence in introducing digital change. Meanwhile, our latest Charity Digital Skills Report showed that staff also worry their own leadership teams are falling behind in this area: the majority of charities (69%) cite their board’s digital skills as low or having room for improvement. An increasing number of charities (58%) now see funding as their biggest obstacle to digital progress.

Digital skills are not a luxury. They are vital to help the sector increase impact, efficiency and sustainability. Lloyds Bank’s study revealed that the more digitally mature charities are twice as likely to see an increase in donations. And digital isn’t just about channels; it’s really about how charities can, like any other sector, be relevant and fulfil their purpose in the online age.

We are not alone in this challenge. I hear from colleagues everyday in other industries who face the same issues. And I’m delighted to say that the charity sector is coming together to tackle this.

It’s right that all charities, whether large or small, regardless of size, budget, or cause, are able to embrace digital. Whilst there are some resources and support available to support charities, much of it is fragmented, and there is no consistent framework for the sector to work towards. Charities need to have a clear idea of what they are aiming for as well as how they need to change their own working practices and behaviour.

That is why a group of organisations will be working together to create The Charity Digital Code of Practice. It aims to develop charities’ digital skills, improve take up of digital activity in charities, and create a level playing field for all organisations by increasing digital motivation and confidence. Through the code, we want to make charities more accessible for beneficiaries, create new opportunities for funders to engage with digital and enhance collaboration across the sector.

The code will be free to access for everyone and there will be versions for smaller as well as larger organisations. Both will cover best practice guidelines.

The Charity Digital Code of Practice will be developed by a steering group of charity leaders (in consultation with the wider sector) including representatives from the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO), The Small Charities Coalition, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), Office for Civil Society, and the Charity Commission. It is due to launch at the end of 2018, with the consultation opening this summer, and will be funded by Lloyds Banking Group and the Co-op Foundation. I am delighted to be chairing the steering group.

This is a really exciting, innovative project, which goes to the heart of what we want the future of the charity sector to look like.

We are really keen to hear from you about what you’d like from the code. It’s ultimately your code and the sector’s code, and we’d love to hear your views. So please do get involved in the consultation process. We’re also encouraging you to share your views about the code and what you want from it by using the hashtag #charitydigitalcode.

Categories: Technology


Mark Freeman · 28th March 2018 at 10:46 am

My heart sinks at reading this. I get it we need to be better at digital. I get it that means all of us regardless of size. We do not need a top down solution from the usual suspects, and I say that as a critical friend and not hater.
We need investment into digital but the way to impart the skills is not digitally and the investment has to be at the grassroots end. The bigger organisations (income over £500,000) probably get it and can afford to buy it. The really big charities spend more on digital than most charities spend in total.
The cost of the panel in time and salaries etc. would better be spent on skills training for community groups. Investment should be through local delivery (I am biased I work for a CVS) as they can engage and deliver. If you want to do a big government, national project then it should be about developing training aids that we can use for free; or maybe developing free tools to replace some of the expensive ones available to big organisations (or possibly forcing Facebook to stop messing with who gets to see our posts).
In short we don’t need a code we need investment. We don’t need national we need local delivery. We don’t want a fight for funds we want money available in every community and CVS!

    Co-op Foundation · 3rd April 2018 at 10:11 am

    Thanks again Mark for your comments. As we have discussed, one of the big challenges facing charities both small and large in digital is that there is no agreed set of standards to work towards. That is the fundamental issue we are trying to fix with the code, which is the most cost effective, high impact intervention we can make. There are also plenty of free, well regarded digital training courses on digital skills which we wouldn’t want to duplicate, such as Google Garage or Llloyds Bank’s programme. I fully support the need for more help for small charities which is why we are developing a version of the code specifically for them.
    – Zoe Amar

Nick Booth · 28th March 2018 at 11:11 pm

There are many ways to do this. Through the social media surgeries we have supported 5000 community group that we know of. That has been achieved through social capital more than a major financial investment from a funder. So you are not starting from scratch. You might be starting from work that has been going on since 2005 or earlier.

Dylan · 29th March 2018 at 6:19 pm

I think – the more initiatives there are – the better. From organizational and business support such as funding, code of practice, workshops, consultation and advice.

I also think this needs to be matched with technical support – such as volunteer web developers, media producers, digital strategists.
In the commercial web design agency world – a client is given a free consultation. This is the best time to present possibilities and current trends to the client, and it allows time for the client to review their requirements in light of any new information. This consultation phase also allows the agency to understand the client’s business needs and objectives – so that recommendations match these needs as closely as possible without derailing or distracting from the client’s needs. Implementing a similar approach in the voluntary sector would allow small charities the opportunity to create a digital plan at trustee level, whether with a digital trustee, or through consultation from a business consultant (pro bono), or from a Director or a local web design agency. This plan would be the working document for both trustees and volunteers to work from – and this document would set out the terms, such as “ways of working – agile, waterfall?”, “time-scales”, “team engagement rules”, “ways to feedback” – the web developer would then deliver a volunteering services based on a common guide.

For small charities to progress digitally, we need a team of web developer volunteers to deliver technical solutions set out in the plan document. Once implemented, volunteer writers, creatives, digital strategist could then implement a digital strategy, or content marketing plan – again – according to the plan document.

Every small charity that seeks volunteers should have access to an initial consultation to review requirements, and to present possibilities for supporting fundraising activities, for example.

It’s important to note – not every small volunteer-based charity have global ambitions – but this does not negate the potential of an optimized web presence. Up-skilling has many other benefits.

I believe one way to deliver this would be through an agency – a “consultation service” – a network of volunteer digital trustees and industry experts.

As a active volunteer, I work with businesses and small charities. Providing advice, consultation, website development, and digital strategy plans. Small businesses are essential for the economy of course – but again – not every business I’ve worked with have global ambitions – so the challenge is in persuading them that using the web to its fullest potential is still good for business.

In my view – as more businesses and charities start implement content marketing strategies to win online audience attention and donations – smaller charities are at risk of fading into relative obscurity. For a truly diverse business and charity sector – it’s important that we provide access to a free consultation service – and that any reports would contain details on staff requirements, over time, such as web developers to build a new website – digital producers to create content.

My job – as a committed member of the volunteering community – is to deliver a technical service (web, media) and when needed advice and consultation.

Alex · 4th April 2018 at 11:46 am

I totally agree that many charities need help in this area, and it’s also vital that whatever is developed needs to include proper information about digital accessibility. So many charities support and involve people whose disabilities mean they need additional software or support to access online services such as websites or portals. If accessibility is built into a charity’s digital presence from the outset then it’s a million times easier than trying to tweak your online booking form further down the road to make it work with someone’s screen-reader, or go back and subtitle all the videos on your website. Even if small charity staff and volunteers have basic digital skills, too few of us have this kind of knowledge, and it’s shameful that accessibility should be a ‘nice extra if we can afford it’ rather than a basic requirement.

Adrian Venditti · 24th April 2018 at 9:07 pm

I think there needs to be coverage of the following 2 issues
1. I think volunteers as much as paid employees need to be considered in any scheme to expand the digital platforms (whether social media or fundraising)
2. I also think for the ongoing benefit of the charitable organisations there needs to be an Internet fundraising platform that doesn’t charge registered charities any payment handling fees for accepting donations on their behalf. Perhaps Nationwide building society with its customer owned “mutual society” status could expand its current online banking services to assist registered charities?

Why we don’t need a charity digital code. | ccvsblog · 28th March 2018 at 11:44 am

[…] saw the announcement that a new charity digital code of practice is to be developed. Lots big names from the charity digital sector involved, significant funding (I assume from) from […]

Can you help us shape new digital guidance for the charity sector? – Belong Network Blog · 18th April 2018 at 9:10 am

[…] One way or another, technology is going to have an ever-growing impact on the way our organisations need to work. That’s why the Co-op Foundation is supporting the development of a new Charity Digital Code of Practice. This aims to develop charities’ digital skills, improve take up of digital activity in charities, and create a level playing field for all organisations by increasing digital motivation and confidence. We will be developing the code alongside the Charity Commission, Office for Civil Society, NCVO, the Small Charities Coalition, Tech Trust, ACEVO and NAVCA amongst others. You can find out more about the code here. […]

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