Almost nine million people have been furloughed due to the virus pandemic, and employees in the charity sector have been severely affected. As far back as April, may high profile charities including Barnado’s, Alzheimer’s Society, Cancer Research UK and National Trust announced that thousands of their staff would be furloughed on the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
For furloughed charity staff and the organizations that they work for, the pandemic has been a disaster. But if there is anything positive that can be salvaged from the situation it might be this: for charity staff who are furloughed at home, it does present an opportunity to learn new digital skills through online training.
Why are digital skills important in the charity sector?
The simple answer to this question is that harnessing the power of digital in every aspect of a charity’s activities – from fundraising to service delivery – is key if these organisations are to thrive and succeed in the future. Yet three quarters of all charities report that they have access to very few people with the digital skills they need, according to the results of the Charity Digital Code Quick Assessment Tool. So unless new digital skills are acquired, there is likely to be an acute shortage of staff with the digital skills which will be in demand in the long term.
In the short to medium term, digital skills may be even more vital for charities while traditional face-to-face activities are either restricted or impossible. That’s because initiatives such as digital fundraising events, online sales, and digital service delivery may be the only ways that charities can continue to operate.
So here is the problem in a nutshell: most charities are planning to make increasing use of digital in the future, and thanks to the effects of the pandemic, many of these plans are being brought forward. But in order to carry out those plans, many of those charities need staff to acquire new digital skills.
The next few weeks and months provide a unique opportunity for charities and their furloughed workers. If those on furlough use just some of their time at home to equip themselves with the right new digital skills, then their charities will be able to sidestep any digital skills shortages and find themselves very well positioned for the future.
What digital skills will be in demand?
Over half of all charities do not yet have any digital strategy at all, according to the Charity Digital Skills Report. That means that many charities have yet to begin or are only at a very early stage in exploring the possibilities of digital. It is not clear whether they are in this early stage because they have few staff with digital skills to call upon, or whether they have until now not needed staff with digital skills.
Whichever is the case, these charities are likely to benefit from an infusion of essential digital skills such the ability to setup and maintain a simple spreadsheet or database, using applications like Microsoft Outlook, or basic cyber security skills to help ensure that that they are aware of the hazards of the digital world and how to stay safe online.
For charities that do have a clear digital strategy, the four most popular digital activities that they say they intend to focus on in the future are:
- Using digital to increase impact
- Using data more effectively
- Using digital to improve service delivery
- Increasing income through digital fundraising
Each of these is likely to require a combination of different digital skills.
Using digital to increase impact digital skills required include: digital marketing, social media, web design, search engine optimisation
Using data more effectively digital skills required include: data analytics, spreadsheet and database skills, constituent relationship management (CRM)
Using digital to improve service delivery digital skills required include: web site design, teleconferencing, social media
Increasing income through digital fundraising digital skills required include: digital fundraising, use of eCommerce technology, web site design
As charities increase their use of digital, it is inevitable that they will become more vulnerable to attacks by cyber criminals unless they take appropriate cyber security measures. For that reason, staff with cyber security skills are likely to be sought after and valued highly.