Charity Digital Skills Report 2024 - Lightful's Response

Jonathan Waddingham
Chief Product Officer
11 Jul 2024

Every year, we wait with baited (and sometimes apprehensive) breath for the annual Charity Digital Skills Report to be released. It’s become something of a key marker of the UK charity sector’s state of digital maturity, and forms a key part of how we at Lightful measure the need for our digital training programmes.

Having quickly read the (119 page!) report, here are my *hot takes* and thoughts on solutions:

Progress is stalling, and funding is the primary issue
  • 45% of charities say a lack of suitable digital funding is their biggest barrier
This is particularly acute for the smallest organisations
  • 72% of small charities are struggling digitally due to squeezed organisational finances
Smaller organisations are also missing out on the benefits of AI

Whilst AI affords amazing opportunities for increased effectiveness and efficiency, the benefits are not equitably distributed: among the 61% of charities who are currently using AI in day-to-day work or operations:

  • 53% of small charities are using AI tools, compared to 78% of large charities

The good news

There are some seeds of hope - like the fact that 76% of charities feel they’ve made digital progress this year and 80% of charities say digital is an organisational priority. Charities know they need more support, and broadly the areas they need support in, and we at Lightful know what happens when the right support is given.

In our recently released Building Resilience Impact Report, over 250 charities told us about the significant, measurable and ongoing impact of the digital training programmes they have taken part in in the last five years:

  • 96% of nonprofits believe lessons learned from BRIDGE have helped them have a positive impact on the communities they serve
  • 84% of participants use the skills from the BRIDGE programme at least weekly
  • 79% increase in funds raised compared to the 12 months before the programme

Change can happen if charities are provided with the right support, at the right time, in the right way.

Lack of progress

The introduction to the report gives a good summary of how things have or have not evolved:

"If we had to summarise the 2024 Charity Digital Skills Report, it is a year when tech use across the sector has evolved and yet overall digital progress remains static. We can clearly see the impact of the cost of living crisis on charities and their organisational development. A lack of capacity, headspace and financial pressures are all preventing progress with digital."
Charities do understand the importance of digital

The desire to improve and make the most of digital is not the problem. Progress is being made despite a lack of support.

“Yet despite these challenges, it’s promising to see half of charities are approaching digital strategically and 80% of charities see digital as an organisational priority. Our data also shows us that charities are getting to grips with AI tools and technology.”
Smaller organisations are being left behind. Again.

We have supported over 3,000 small-medium sized charities from over 90 countries around the world to build their digital skills, and see first-hand, every day, the difference giving them support and capacity can have.

"Once again, our report shows how charities need time, capacity, people, support and funding. This is vital to develop their digital and data skills, leadership and use of digital tools and infrastructure. We can see that there is a significant gap between the digital capacity in large and small charities. In turn, the smaller charities in our sample are more likely to be led by people with lived experience and specific marginalised groups."
AI may only make equity worse, when it should be making it better

AI is a transformative technology, and we can’t make the same mistakes with every new technological advancement and let it be just the preserve of the largest orgs with the most capacity. Especially when there is nothing holding the smallest back aside from skills and training, and they have potentially the most to gain.

"The contrast we see in the report between AI adoption, perennial gaps in skills, leadership challenges, and funding needs indicates how emerging tech adoption across the sector may be held back by systemic issues in the sector. Now is the time to tackle, and close, these gaps, or the sector will run the risk of being left behind in the AI revolution."

What we need to do

In many ways, this is not a nice report to read (and I don’t mean that the report itself is not well-written or designed, far from it). This report should not be one that is read and then left in your downloads folder to gather dust. We all need to do more, and do it urgently - including and especially funders.

There is one final stat to pull out which shows why:

  • 73% require funding to create capacity and time to work on organisational development and digital strategy.

At Lightful, we are lucky to work with incredibly passionate, supportive and visionary funders who understand that improving charities' digital skills needs time, support and funding. This report shows - once again - that digital training is sorely needed. And we know it works. As we shared above, the results from our longitudinal research speak for themselves.

Our vision is a future where nonprofits have the power to create more equitable communities and a healthier planet. That’s why we run our BRIDGE programmes, and build AI-powered tools like our Persona Creator and Ethical Storytelling tool.

The latest Charity Digital Skills Report shows more than ever why this support is needed.

Join us in our #BuildingResilience campaign, and help equip vital organisations with the tools and skills they need to thrive.

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