Jamie Ward-Smith, Chair of the Co-op Foundation and co-founder of Do-it.org, the UK’s first digital volunteering service, explains why the new Charity Digital Code of Practice launched today will help charities connect with their audiences better than ever…

Today, I invite our partners and charity colleagues to read the Charity Digital Code of Practice – the UK’s first ever set of guiding principles for charity digital use, co-funded by the Co-op Foundation.

We’ve been working with our co-funders, Lloyds Banking Group, and a steering group of charity leaders led by digital expert Zoe Amar, to bring The Code to life over the past year and we look forward to seeing the impact it will have supporting charities of all sizes.

It’s free to access, it’s totally voluntary to use and it’s available here.

Why do we need a digital code for charities?

Digital technology means charities have the potential to connect with more people than ever, enabling them to run their services more effectively and engage with more supporters and volunteers. Yet research from 2017 shows that only 48% of charities have basic digital skills while one in four Co-op local causes and community groups fear for their survival and 35% believe they would benefit from a better online presence.

In addition, competition for digital audiences is incredibly high and this leaves small charities, in particular, at a disadvantage – they just don’t have the resource or capacity to do everything they want to do.

We want the new Charity Digital Code to reverse this by leveling the playing field with other industries – including the commercial sector – and improving the sustainability, impact and efficiency of all charities.

Previous guidance for charities has been fragmented but we believe The Code provides a clear direction informed by extensive consultation with the sector about what works best.

So, is it just for big charities with their own Digital teams?

Far from it! Our funding for The Code was granted to the Small Charities Coalition, whose involvement made sure that small charities had a big voice in developing a version of The Code that works for them. The Code provides simple guidance that is relevant for charities whatever their size, with additional content intended for those larger charities that generate more than £1m of income a year.

We know from our conversations with partners that getting the basics right is particularly important for smaller charities. The Code will help make this happen by focusing on seven key principles of good digital use – leadership, working with stakeholders, culture, strategic thinking, investing in skills, adaptability, and managing risks and ethics – so they can more effectively reach their audiences and connect better with their online communities.

How should we use it?

How charities engage with The Code and how much of it they use is totally up to them – it’s voluntary, after all.

As a co-funder, we hope The Code will be used first as a benchmark to help charities measure how they’re performing before planning more strategically for the future. As a charity Chair, I’m passionate that this leadership comes from Board members and that’s why we’ve launched The Code in Trustees’ Week. Leadership is a key theme of The Code and we all have a part to play in making sure digital activity is part of governance.

Why is Co-op Foundation involved?

We’re here to help communities work together to make things better and we believe this works online and offline. By helping charities connect more effectively with their audiences, they will be in a stronger position to serve their communities and secure their own futures.

Access The Code and join the conversation using #CharityDigitalCode to tell us what you think.

Funders who are interested in helping to develop the next stage of The Code can contact us here.


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