A roundtable on delivering digital services in charities

Alex Wright

4 minute read

While the much-discussed concept of ‘digital transformation’ has come to imply a single change project, we prefer to regard it as a continuous journey towards digital maturity — cultivating the organisational agility that’s a prerequisite for thriving amidst disruption.

At Friday, we’ve developed a framework for assessing digital maturity. And our regular series of roundtables are a valuable way to validate the framework with senior representatives of a specific sector, as well as providing attendees with a neutral forum in which to share their experiences — good and bad — of applying digital technology to their businesses.

The digital maturity measurement framework is available for download. Please use it, just cite us as the source.

Friday Friangle

At December’s roundtable we hosted 10 not-for-profit organisations, spanning children’s charities and those involved in emergency relief and care for the elderly, sick and disadvantaged. The attendees were charity digital leaders — CIO’s, Chief Digital Officers, Digital Directors etc.

From our conversations with not-for-profit organisations we’d spotted a pattern. They all had reasonably mature digital fundraising operations. “Advanced” digital fundraising was understood; most charities had a sense of the quality of their own digital fundraising; there was a ready market in staff and agencies to support decent digital fundraising. This bit of “charity digital” was familiar turf.

But many were now starting to digitise core services — the things that the charities did to help people, the core purpose of their organisations, their reason for being. This is newer (than digital fundraising), very complex and demanding, and hard. All the charities we spoke to were struggling.

So, we presented attendees a new maturity matrix, derived from our framework, to assess their organisations’ maturity in the delivery of digital services.

The framework may stand for commercial or public sector organisations too, not just charities. We’d welcome your thoughts and feedback, to understand if it applies to you, and to help us refine this matrix — just ping corinne.powers@wearefriday.com.

Friday Friangle

Overall, most attendees rated the digital service delivery maturity of their organisations at level 2. Most said their organisations are more advanced in terms of Vision and Surface than they are in Plumbing and Capability.

Some are “just trying to achieve normal” – doing the basics well such as standardising simple repeating features across services (like booking appointments, or gathering service user feedback etc.). All described an ongoing battle — for funding, senior buy-in, control and so on, with varying degrees of success. All were finding it hard going.

Digital fail

The attendees are no strangers to digital transformation projects, and all could share experiences of bumpy, faltering or failed initiatives. These are familiar across many organisations:

  1. I’m going to do change to you 

    Some digital transformation projects failed because they were ‘done to’ the organisation and key parts of the organisation were not able to ‘own the change’ for themselves.

  2. Token change

    Others failed because they were all talk and no trousers. The deeper change needed (to culture, people, leadership) didn’t really happen, but some shiny change wallpaper was hung out to cover the cracks (an agile project manager here, a chief digital officer there, an iPad-on-a-stick in reception…)

  3. You-change, not me-change

    Yet more failed because they allowed the digital change to be contained in one place — in the digital team or in IT. The fundamentals of the organisations did not alter.

  4. The short-sharp change project

    And yet more failed because they saw the change as a one-time project. Like a diet. One brief period of pain, and then it’ll all be magically fixed. But, as any good diet book will tell you, the diet should be the start of a new way of eating, for good. So digital represents a new way of working, for good (not a short uncomfortable project).

So everyone had some war stories and compared battle scars. Good therapy — and a reminder of not being alone.

But we agreed to table some more forward looking topics for when we next meet things like:

  1. If we were re-starting our charities now with the same purpose, but built for today’s digital world, how would they be different?
  2. What collaboration opportunities are there across charitable organisations — to co-deliver digital services? To share digital platforms? Share IT resources?
  3. How should one frame the “digital service delivery” question so it’s a senior question about delivering the purpose of the organisation, and not a bytes and plugs question that gets hijacked by IT?
  4. How to balance commissioner-funded digital services with digital services paid for by voluntary funds?
  5. Are the digital people in charities the new IT?
  6. Central digital capabilities, or federated digital capabilities, or a bit of both — which model works best when?

We’ll be re-convening in the spring of 2017 to pick up these issues and more.

If you’re interested in attending one of Friday’s digital maturity roundtables, or having the digital maturity of your organisation benchmarked, please get in touch with corinne.powers@wearefriday.com. Download the digital maturity measurement framework here.

Alex Wright

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