How to become the digital leader your charity desperately needs

By Ross McCulloch (Director, Third Sector Lab) on 21st Sep 2018

Your charity is probably dabbling in the world of digital right now, maybe you have a fairly healthy social media presence, perhaps you’ve moved to the cloud or you’re starting to use data to make better decisions.

I want you to consider how much of this currently sits in silos, how much of it has a strategic direction to it, how many of your digital systems have been influenced by your users and does your board really understand the potential that digital offers?

If you’re starting to ask yourself these questions it’s time to get help, it’s time to be challenged and it’s time to start pushing the boundaries of what is possible. At the risk of sounding grandiose this is exactly what our One Digital Senior Leaders Programme has achieved over recent years. Cohorts of senior third sector leaders come together to understand the building blocks of successful, digitally mature charities and challenge each other along the way. For most, the results have been transformational.

Applications are now open for the 2019 Senior Leaders Programme.

Rather than this being a sales-pitch for a programme that doesn’t need selling (demand has vastly out-weighed availability of places for the last three years), I wanted to pull together the five key areas I feel all charities need to focus on if they’re serious about digital evolution. These fives themes form the structure of the One Digital Senior Leaders Programme.

Effective leadership & the right culture We desperately need more third sector leaders ready to challenge the status quo. We need senior people who can ask the right questions - they don’t need to be digital experts. Leadership and culture is the strand we deliberately start with in the Senior Leaders Programme - cultivating these two areas enables the change you want to see within your charity.

The action learning approach we take within the programme has proven particularly powerful in helping participants become the best digital leaders they can be. As previous participant Claire Neill, CEO of Open Door puts it:

“The Senior Leaders Programme has allowed me to think far more strategically about what we do actually need and having proper conversations about it. Prior to the course I didn't know what questions to ask and what it was that we, as an organisation, needed. Now I have a much clearer idea and this has cut done the time I have spent attempting to work things out myself!”

Being data driven For causes, data should no longer be seen as a reporting tool - it needs to become your key decision making tool. In the data session of the Senior Leaders Programme we bring in an expert speaker to help you think about what data to collect, how to collect data, making meaning from data and how best to communicate results.

As well as the broader principles of becoming a data-driven organisation, the Programme has helped people think about the practical tools they need to put in place, such as a CRM, how they can train staff to better analyse data and where existing processes may need to change to allow for better data collection.

Cyber security 40% of charities rate their skills in cyber security as ‘low’ or ‘very low’ - charities often lack the knowledge to discuss and assess cyber threats properly. For many Scottish charities cyber resilience is not discussed at a senior level or featured on organisational risk registers.

The Senior Leaders Programme equips participants with the right cyber security questions to ask and helps them think about practical steps they should be taking. Many of the organisation taking part go on to work towards their Cyber Security Essentials accreditation - sending a clear message to funders, donors, users and government that they take information security seriously.

Cyber security has formed a core element of Lead Scotland’s digital strategy as their CEO Emma Whitelock outlines:

“Lead has a more solid digital strategic vision & plan. We are using office 365 much more effectively, we have a whole new Operational Manual with a section on cyber resilience, internal comms etiquette and platforms, we have refocused an admin role to embrace digital, we're on a path to get rid of two aging servers, paperwork and reporting templates are moving online”.

The importance of user experience and service design

At the heart of digital transformation is the need for service transformation. This is fundamentally about the people you serve getting the best service possible, digital is merely an enabler. Recognising this, we’ve had world-renowned service design experts, such as Lauren Currie, come in to work with the group to help them really understand user experience.

For some participants this has been their lightbulb moment, in particular thinking about the impact of digital inclusion on how services are delivered.

Using flexible technologies to organisational advantage Gone are the days of the five-year-cycle giant IT procurement process for a one-size-fits-all system that everyone hates and only 65% of it actually does what it was supposed to. We should now have a different relationship with technology, taking best in class products that work seamlessly with each other - many of which are free or available at significant discount to non-profits. For many of our participants this has shifted how their organisation uses tech, freeing up staff time and IT costs but more importantly driving forward innovative uses of digital to better meet user needs.

“The course has helped me consider what additional options are open to us - with the right investment and less costly alternatives. I became aware of other programmes and tools which could be used within our projects…things I hadn't considered previously - Jillian Milne, Mindspace.

Join a group of senior leaders ready to make real change

You have a unique opportunity to work alongside other third sector CEOs, department heads and those with the authority to bring about change - supporting and enabling each other. You’ll hear from world class speakers who will shape your understanding of leadership, culture, data, tech, service design and beyond. You will be guided along the way by me and the highly experienced Maddie Stark (SCVO).

“Leadership is always evolving and the digital world opens up a whole new way of working that is open, accessible and sometimes a bit scary. You don’t need to be a technical expert, you just need to be bold and embrace the opportunity.” - Anna Fowlie, Chief Executive of SCVO

Apply now