Unlocking your charity’s digital challenges: speed of change, skills and culture

Lee James

Unlocking your charity’s digital challenges: speed of change, skills and culture

We recently gathered CIOs and CTOs from leading UK charities to share their thoughts on integrating digital strategies to engage with donors at the Rosewood Hotel London. The pace of change of technology, digital skills of the workforce and culture were the three areas of focus for this resource tight sector. During the breakfast briefing, our customer The British Heart Foundation’s (BHF) Head of Business IT Mary O'Callaghan presented a session to the audience on how they are using technology to keep pace with innovation to keep hearts beating and blood flowing in combating heart disease. And I was delighted to have an opportunity to share my thoughts around digital challenges within this sector. With a broad range of charities in attendance, each with a different digital landscape and funding model, it was the perfect place to gain an overview of the sector’s relationship with technology’s rapid advancements.

Keeping up with the pace of change

Technology’s rapid pace of change was a key talking point with some stating that cloud transformation presented a fear of technology as there was resistance to both implementing and using it. According to the tech UK, ‘Representing the Future’ report 55% of IT decision-makers are struggling to keep up with the increasing number of changes. While the Charity Digital Skills report stated that 45% say they need to modernise their infrastructure. We also heard how issues over hosting in multiple locations and data security on devices were seen as an obstacle, however these concerns can be addressed. As Mary revealed we helped the BHF upgrade and migrate their e-commerce site across their omni-channel offering ensuring they provide a seamless experience to their 60 million visitors in their 750 shops. They’re the largest charity retailer. The move to the cloud supports multiple customer touchpoints like their digital initiatives including ‘Restart a Heart’ on Twitter. Digital channels provide infinite opportunities to raise funds and awareness while also influencing.

Expertise to keep digital skills updated

Assisting charities with digital skills is really important as during the event the common opinion was that maintaining up-to-date skills in a rapidly changing tech landscape is a challenge, especially with limited training budgets. One of the things we did during our work with Oxfam was to have the Rackspace Professional Services team run workshops educating them on the latest technologies and innovation inside in the cloud. We worked together on assessing their existing digital landscape to map out a detailed plan which led to the successful migration of 31 workloads in under a year resulting in a 300 hundred fold increase in regular giving and donations to their site. It’s been reported that there’s a lack of digital skills and expertise with 69% citing that their board has room to improve while 73% said there are low to very low skills in AI (Charity Digital Skills Report 2018). It’s a data-rich sector that could make greater use of intelligence with AI. We’ve been able to help BHF host a Hackathon Day where eighty BHF employees came to Rackspace’s offices to solve 5 business problems from which they are now implementing some new ideas using innovation. The digital skills gap means some charities have been reluctant to adopt remote working practices although during the event some charities revealed that laptop pools and hot desking are becoming common practice. Cloud related practices are being taken-up at different levels in the sector depending on each individual charity work culture.

The culture of digital change

When it comes to Rackspace’s culture we strongly believe in letting individuals express themselves which is reflected in our, “It’s OK to be me” company mantra. Charities aren’t just looking for a technology partner but for someone who understands their individual needs. For example, in certain charities, their own employees may also be their customers so could require additional consideration when it comes to things like updating digital skills. To address all the considerations our potential charity customers and customers from other sectors may have, we invite them to our offices to experience our culture and see cloud as a service model where we look to understand each other. While Rackspace’s own charity initiative, ‘Rack Gives Back’ involves Rackers (our own name for employees) donating their time to a charity, annually we have 100 hours to use for this. We’re here to improve the experiences of not only our customers but also our communities. We want to help charities thrive in this rapidly changing digital landscape and make the most of all the opportunities that cloud presents while gaining confidence in technology and know we can do this through our partnerships with charities. And if you’re looking to see how we helped Oxfam please visit our customer story to hear from them.