The 2015 Digital Leadership report is now available, and provides a fascinating snapshot of digital leadership within the charity sector.
It identifies a clear trend of rising digital influence inside charities, with 45% of digital leads having influence on planning decisions, and 40% on strategic thinking. Both statistics are up around 20 percentage points on a year ago.
The research asked an identical set of questions to 2014, targeting a mixed bag of digital practitioners inside around 60 charities. Its aim was to understand how charities’ digital functions are structured; how they are growing; and the impact they are having.
The less good news, from the research, is that most digital functions are still heavily focused on managing channels that just happen to be digital, or on repurposing content for these channels. Roles like ‘social media manager’ or ’email manager’ or ‘digital editor’ are commonplace and greatly outweigh data-focused, innovation-led, or capability-building roles.
Consistent with this activity-based mind-set, charities’ metrics for evaluating digital are still heavily focused on the tactical ‘clicks and likes’, rather than looking to evaluate digital’s role in influencing specific commercial or social outcomes. More disturbingly, there is very little sense of progress, as yet, in creating tighter links between the IT team and the digital communications teams.
Alongside this tactical focus there seems to be an emergent trend to appoint existing analogue communications leaders as ‘digital heads’ as a ‘organisational patch’, sensibly ensuring that digital has high level accountability. While this superficially mainstreams digital ‘at a stroke’, it may also prevent charities from harnessing the full power of digital.
The real potential of ‘digital’ is to enable rich, personalised and mutually valuable dialogue(s), based on data-enabled, real-time insights.
In a nutshell – digital offers charities a way to become less and less about centralised planning, and more and more about decentralised response – to the benefit of supporters and beneficiaries alike.
Thus, embedding digital into a traditional channel-based, message-push view of the world – even one that is more sniper than shotgun – is likely to leave a lot of value on the table. An alternative plan is to invest in those digitally-literate assets (people) charities already have and empower them with the investment and influence they need to drive bottom up transformation. This is just the approach the reports advocates and it seems like a fruitful path to me.
What is needed now though, is a clear roadmap for this sort of participative transformation. More work needs to be done on this ‘wirearchic’ management approach to connect individual effectiveness to organisational effectiveness. Copper looks forward to collaborating closely with the Digital Leaders programme, to help individual digital practitioners lead change inside their own organisation.
Tim Kitchin is client service director and director of consulting at Copper, the digital marketing agency.