New Year’s resolution for 2017? Think digital.

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With charities of all kinds embracing the huge potential of digital techniques, Harris Hill's digital recruitment specialist Hannah Whittington explains why there's never been a better time to get involved.


Well, we've made it into a new year and if there's one thing we've all learned from 2016, it's to expect the unexpected. The past year saw no shortage of surprises (putting it charitably) across the world, the UK and here in the charity sector - so it'd be a brave person who'd try to predict the 12 months to come.

But there's one thing at least that's a nailed-on certainty: the continued expansion of all things digital. Whether you're an organisation or an individual, boosting your digital skills would be one 2017 resolution that's guaranteed to deliver significant rewards.

Towards the end of last year I attended a number of events focused on digital techniques in the charity sector, from smaller charity groups, to the sector-wide CharityComms Digital Conference, where I had the opportunity to meet and learn from digital enthusiasts both within and outside the sector.

What came across loud and clear from all the events is how digital can enable charities to make significant changes for the better - so naturally it's an area many charities are seeking to grow.

Challenges and opportunities

Three of the key themes of the CharityComms conference included understanding your brand, engaging audiences and the complexity of digital transformations. Digital channels, with social media being the obvious example, can play a huge role in helping to understand how people already relate to your brand, and in shaping how they do so in future.

That kind of knowledge can be invaluable when it comes to engaging with audiences: understanding what people want to hear about means you can tailor content to their interests, building loyalty and connection with your organisation. If your stories are engaging enough, there's also every chance they'll be shared with your audience's friends and networks - all of which can ultimately attract new supporters and increase donations at significantly lower cost than many of the more traditional methods.

So why isn't everyone doing it already?

Many charities are already hugely successful online of course, but across the sector as a whole there's still plenty of room for development, which is where the 'complexity of digital transformations' comes in. In short, there can be a resistance to digital in the charity sector, given the changes that may be required to long-standing cultures and processes, and gaps in digital expertise that will need training or recruitment to fill. This normally requires investment, within a sector that, entirely justifiably, needs to look after their money.

Even where there's a totally committed drive towards digital, limited resources and the complexities of rolling it out throughout an organisation can mean that progress takes its time.

Driving digital can help your organisation - and your career

If there's a skills gap, there's an opportunity. Whilst some employees may shy away from digital, learning new skills (which don't have to be coding!), getting involved with digital projects or working as part of a digital-first organisation offer amazing opportunities to not only drive change and take the charity forwards but also to develop your career.

Digital is still a relatively new word in the charity sector, so staff with both digital and charity sector experience are highly sought after. But given the high demand, charities also need to look further afield, so if you've got the skills it can be a great way of getting into the charity sector for the first time.

If you're able to show all areas of the organisation how digital can help them, whether it be content, fundraising or operations and gain buy in from everyone involved, embedding digital will be an easier (or at least more manageable) challenge. What's more, there's a good chance of making yourself a pretty indispensable part of the organisation.

Innovation and creativity always welcome!

One of the reasons I love specialising in not-for-profit recruitment is because charities are built on passion and when it comes to digital within the charity sector this should be no different. Valuing passion over process, thinking outside the box and taking risks can deliver benefits well beyond any initial outlay. Digital fundraising can turn passive supporters into active fundraisers in a matter of seconds and if charities view digital as a long-term investment (rather than a one-off project) it's a fantastic space for innovative ideas to flourish that will attract new audiences.

tap dogs

Blue Cross' Tap Dogs campaign

A fantastic recent digital fundraising campaign came from Blue Cross, with the launch of 'Tap Dogs', where anyone wishing to donate to Blue Cross could simply 'pat and tap' the dog to make a donation using their contactless payment card. Tracy Genever, Blue Cross Head of Education Services said: "With today's increasingly cashless society, it made sense to introduce a contactless option to those wishing to give to Blue Cross."

I loved this idea, where the dogs wore contactless card technology in their specifically designed jackets, as it showed that digital didn't have to be complex or technical but interactive, fun and face to face. Digital asks 'Are there ways we can do our job better?' and this is an excellent example of this. Not only did it raise funds but also raised awareness for Blue Cross for Pets.

Digital channels also create a wealth of opportunities for innovative, fun and creative marketing, keeping in touch with supporters, sharing stories and celebrating successes, all of which can be seen and shared well beyond your core audience.

Make digital your 2017 watchword

Whether your organisation is relatively new to digital or has a well-established strategy already, my advice from a career perspective is simply: get involved! Even if it's not a core part of your role, any skills you can learn and any support you can offer will not only be valuable to your organisation now, they'll stand you in good stead for your future in a sector that's embracing digital more and more by the day!

If you're looking for your next charity digital role, to move into the sector, or need more digital expertise for your team, please get in touch! I specialise in this area with charities right across the sector so I'd be delighted to help you and offer advice on working and recruiting in this fast-moving field.

Hannah Whittington, Digital Recruitment Specialist, Harris Hill

For further information and advice, call Hannah or the digital team on 020 7820 7320, email hannah.whittington@harrishill.co.uk or connect with me on LinkedIn.

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