The Charity Digital Skills Report 2023 marks three years since the sector went into lockdown, triggering a wave of remote working, digital service delivery and online fundraising. Between 2020 and 2021, we saw positive changes in how charities were using digital and learned about the impact that strategy, leadership, skills and trustees were having on digital progress.
This year, we are all grappling with the cost of living crisis. In our latest report, we explore the effect this is having on charities and their digital journey. We wanted to find out if financial constraints were holding charities back from investing further in digital, or whether the crisis had encouraged them to explore the potential for efficiencies that digital offers.
The other big change of 2023 has been the rapid development of generative artificial intelligence (AI) tools such as ChatGPT, Google Bard and Microsoft Copilot. Since closing our survey in the spring, we have seen an explosion of interest in AI, with many charities asking what this could mean for them, how they could use these tools and whether they should. We responded by running a flash poll to understand charities’ attitudes to AI, how they are preparing for the changes it will bring and what actions they have taken so far. We have presented these findings in this report, alongside the findings from our survey.
This year, we decided to take a fresh approach to diversity, equality and inclusion. One of the key aims of our survey is to identify what support and funding the sector needs in order to move forward with digital. We knew that in order to make this meaningful, it had to be inclusive. We wanted to find out if specific marginalised groups in the sector had experienced barriers to funding and support, drawing on broader trends about access to funding for diverse communities that came to light during the pandemic. We are very grateful to our consultant Eshe Kiama Zuri for their guidance and challenge on this, and their support with outreach.
Since we began The Charity Digital Skills Report in 2017, it has become the annual barometer of digital skills, attitudes and support needs across the sector. We are extremely grateful to all the charities and social sector organisations who have taken the time to respond to the survey and to spread the word about it. Every single one of your responses helps us build a picture of how the sector is changing. Your insights have helped us understand the impact that leadership, skills, governance and strategy are having on your digital growth. We hope it helps you benchmark and reflect on where you are with digital.
Our report aims to:
- Track charities’ changing digital priorities post-lockdown and during the cost of living crisis.
- Understand key trends in how charities’ use of digital is evolving.
- Identify the support and funding charities need to progress with digital, including any barriers facing minority groups, so that we can make the case for change.
- Measure where charities have skills gaps and what they need to grow their digital knowledge and confidence.
We are grateful to be working as part of Catalyst again on the report. Catalyst is a collective of individuals and organisations (including nonprofits, funders, agencies and freelancers) helping UK civil society grow in digital. They are building an ecology of interconnected support initiatives, shared infrastructures, learning networks and community spaces that help charities and civil society organisations harness the power of digital, data and design to respond to the changing needs in their communities.
It is positive to see that, three years on from the first lockdown, many charities still see digital as a key priority. However, we can also see from our data how some of the gaps we have seen in the survey year-on-year since 2017 haven’t changed. These include funding, leadership and low digital skills on boards. It is worrying that there has not been much movement in these areas since our report began.
The need to close these gaps is now more urgent due to the rapid developments in AI. Charities will need trustees and staff with strong levels of digital skills, a clear vision from their leaders and funding to capitalise on the opportunities and mitigate the risks and renewed ethical challenges that come with emerging technologies. And the speed at which AI is developing could mean that we have less time to do it. As a sector, we may need to run faster to catch up with where we need to get to.
This year, we’re delighted to provide detailed insights about specific groups of charities. In the report you’ll find dedicated sections on small charities, Wales, Scotland and for charities led by or supporting specific marginalised groups. We are starting to make the case for where targeted funding and support is needed most. We hope this helps to build a picture of the varied digital progress happening across the sector. In turn, we want to inspire those providing funding and support to explore what their key audiences need to move forwards.
Thank you for supporting our report.
Zoe Amar and Nissa Ramsay
We’d love to hear what you think about the report, how you are using the findings and how we might build on this next year in our feedback form.