What does digital transformation actually mean?

Kirsty Marrins
Digital communications specialist
06 Apr 2018

‘Digital transformation’ is a phrase that has become a bit of a buzzword in the sector over the last few years but what does it actually mean? We put this question to the experts and here’s what they said:

Beth Kanter
Master trainer, speaker and author

Digital transformation is about embracing digital tools for all aspects of running your nonprofit that help you make the work more efficient and effective and provide more impact to your audiences or the people you serve. It requires a mindset of experimentation, an understanding of how digital trends will impact your work and knowing which ones are critical to your nonprofit’s success.

Joe Freeman
Assistant director, digital engagement at Breast Cancer Now

Digital transformation, for me, is all about culture and people. It’s about changing how you work and ensuring that your organisation is best placed to make the most of the opportunities that digital presents. It’s not about big budgets either – sure that can help – but simply empowering people to do more with digital can help. Take a look at what everyday tools are out there that people might even just have on their phones that can save time, money and effort, meaning you’ve got more time to focus on your charity’s goals.

Having the right skills and leadership within your organisation to embed digital in every part of what you do, from HR to service delivery, will have a big impact. In future, I think the most successful organisations will be the ones who have recognised this and invested in digital skills and leadership. I do worry that some may be left behind and struggle if they do not learn to adapt in line with wider public digital behaviour.

Zoe Amar
Founder and director, Zoe Amar Digital

Digital transformation has become one of those buzzwords that everyone talks about, but few know how to define. So I wrote my own definition. In my view it means: “Integrating digital across our organisation to deliver our vision, create value, give our audience great experience and services and develop our competitive advantage.” You can use this as a starting point to create a definition of what transformation will look like for your charity. I’d recommend tailoring it to your charity’s vision.

Vinay Nair
CEO and co-founder, Lightful

The pace of evolution of technology can be dizzying, and the term ‘digital transformation’ gets used a lot in the sector. However, there are a number of excellent, detailed resources that exist on the topic; one, in particular, is New Philanthropy Capital’s work.

One of the ways NPC describes ‘digital transformation’ is about “supporting the adoption of digital technologies”. So rather than relating to one new initiative, it is more about how digital tools can cut across every area of a charity or social enterprises’ work. Whether it’s comms, fundraising, operations or service delivery, effective digital transformation can:

  • help those individual areas
  • help each of those areas better work together
  • support collaboration across different organisations

And so ultimately, digital transformation done well helps you to more effectively (and delightfully) serve your beneficiaries.

Mandy Johnson
CEO, Small Charities Coalition

“For us digital transformation means the exploration of how technology can enhance our efficiency, efficacy or impact. As a specific example, the Small Charities Coalition has a helpline that our members can phone for information and advice. It is supported by volunteers who have to come into our office and answer a landline telephone. The rota system for our helpline is a spreadsheet managed by a member of staff. We know that we would attract more volunteers, with a wider variety of skills, if we allowed them to answer calls remotely, from a location that suits them. We also know that the rota system could be a lot more automated than it currently is. Ultimately we know that we could help more charities, and use less resource through a better use of technology. We have secured a small amount of funding, and will be working with CAST, to explore how technology could help us to address these two issues. This is the start of our digital transformation programme but there is a lot more in the pipeline.

Jonathan Waddingham
Freelance product consultant

Digital transformation is the process of uncovering ways an organisation can be more effective, efficient and impactful through the use of digital technology and then making those changes.

If your charity is currently undergoing a digital transformation, we’d love to hear about it! Tweet us at @Lightful.

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