COVID-19: One in three charities has cancelled services due to lack of digital skills or tech

Published on
May 1, 2020
in
Perspectives
Zoe Amar
Our survey of charity digital skills has been updated to include information on how COVID-19 has affected the sector. One early finding is that one in three lack the skills or tech to cope.

Way back before lockdown, we launched a survey to build the 2020 Charity Digital Skills Report, the annual barometer of digital developments across the sector. Working alongside The Catalyst, CAST and Skills Platform we were excited to learn how things had changed. 

Then Coronavirus happened. Amidst falling income and furloughing staff, we’ve heard from charities who’ve been shifting face to face services to digital platforms, moving staff to remote working and increasing their focus on digital fundraising. Since the survey to build the report was out there already, we realised that we had a unique opportunity to track how the sector was changing its use of digital, as it happened. 

We added additional questions to the survey specifically to find out about how the pandemic was changing charities’ digital support needs, how they were using digital as part of their crisis response and where they might need funding. 

At the time of writing, we’ve had 348 responses across a range of charities, sectors, regions and sizes. Of those, 41 were submitted since recently adding the Coronavirus questions. Whilst this isn’t a big sample size yet (the survey closes on 15 May) we’ve spotted some interesting initial findings which we wanted to share with you. 

We’re sharing this whilst we aim to reach 150 further charities. How has your charity used digital as it adapts to the crisis? And what support and funding do you need to help with this? Add your voice to these issues by taking the survey here. 

What we found

From the charities completing the survey so far we heard that : 

  • 37% have cancelled services because they don’t have the skills or tech to deliver them
  • 39% want additional funding to explore how to adapt services in an online setting
  • 34% want additional funding to buy essential tech and hardware
  • 50% want guidance on what works with digitising face to face services
  • 50% want guidance on helping the team adjust to change and stay motivated and productive

The most surprising issue is the number of charities who have cancelled services because they personally lack the skills or technology to deliver them. This is still a very small sample, but it shows the big job we have ahead of us to make sure the sector has the skills it needs. We don’t yet know exactly what skills or tech they don’t have, or the services they haven’t been able to provide, but we would be interested to hear more from charities who are in this position. 

Another issue which stand out for me here are the impact on beneficiaries due to services being cancelled, and the need for funders to support adaptation of face to face services to digital ones. What will happen to the beneficiaries and the charities which can’t get the help and resources they need? 

How one charity is responding

One charity who’ve moved quickly to step up their use of digital during the pandemic is ENABLE Scotland, who support people with learning disabilities. They had already issues all 2,200 frontline staff with smartphones before the crisis and ahead of lockdown enabled functions such as Microsoft Teams for staff so that all frontline keyworkers could stay connected, and receive daily digital staff communications., including a COVID19 staff portal and digital communications from their CEO. This helped staff feel connected and supported at a challenging time. 

Following this, they moved quickly to adapt services to digital. Sudeep Chatterjee, Director of ICT and Change with the Piper Group (the umbrella charity which ENABLE Scotland is a member of) told me that helping staff get confident with tech was a priority. ‘Within week two of the lockdown, we had supported the launch of ACE Connect – a safe, online space for people who have a learning disability and who are facing social isolation to come together and stay connected – and Stepping Up Live – an innovative programme to provide continued employability support for young people preparing to transition from school,’ he told me. And the charity have already seen promising results. ‘To date, over 60 schools across Scotland have signed up, and we are providing young people with support to plan for post school life remotely.  It has been a privilege to lead such a high impact digital programme, and to see in real time how it has enabled our frontline staff teams to continue to deliver our charitable mission.’ 

An example of how a funder is responding

I spoke to a funder who is pivoting to provide funding for charities to upskill and access support around digital. Mary Rose Gunn, CEO of The Fore, has set up The RAFT Fund , which offers grants of up to £5,000 to help small charities and social enterprises build resilience and continue to help their beneficiaries. Gunn says: ‘These grants are complemented by the RAFT Directory of Skilled Volunteer Requests, which connects skilled volunteers with great small charities to help them respond to new challenges posed by the pandemic. Support from RAFT is helping organisations invest in digital technology, transfer their programmes to remote delivery, adapt to changing circumstances and regain the ability to plan ahead - all areas which charities have indicated that they are struggling with.’ 

Tell us what you think

Is your charity growing digital service delivery, or does it need help to do so? Are your funders supporting the digital changes you’re making, or do you need more resources? We’d love to hear from more charities about how COVID-19 is changing your use of digital, and where you need support. This will help us share more compelling findings with the sector to make the case for the funding, resources and support that is most needed  Help us reach 500 responses by completing the survey here

Share your views in The Charity Digital Skills Report survey and you’ll receive a complementary report of the key findings. The deadline for responses is midnight on Friday 15 May. 

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