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'if you're not skilling-up the whole of your organisation you're failing...' 

There's some brilliant work taking shape in charity communications. But no matter how good the cutting edge work the organisation needs to be pulled along too.


Hello I'm Laila and I'm a digital-aholic.  


But I've got a bit of a confession to make – despite being a digital geek with a degree in Computer Science and Art I've never worked in a start-up, I've always worked in the charity sector. 

Of the many things that keep me in charities, a big one is the change I've been able to contribute to and drive. I'm not alone, digital staff across the sector are making waves.

This became really clear when I presented recently on the digital transformation work I've been leading at UNICEF UK (see my presentation on my blog here.) 

In a room full of charity communicators almost everyone had a story about how they were trying to integrate digital more strategically or were already on the journey.

The story varied by size of organisation. The day to day challenges for organisations with larger teams seemed very familiar; ownership wars, left hand Vs right hand objectives, and the digital team often being the last people to be contacted in a project.

Smaller non-profits didn't have the 'ownership wars' or 'conflicting goals' since its often only one person doing all external comms work. But many struggled with limited digital expertise and knowing where to get started when digital may only be a tiny percent of someone's role.

Consistently the greatest challenge, from my experience and others I've met, is more about balancing demands for day to day delivery with the investment in a more strategic approach. As was said by someone at the event; 'a new CMS will not solve your digital problems'. 

The charity sector is starting to 'get it' – in the past few years charity digital roles have grown in number and remit. 'Head of Digital' roles simply didn't exist in charities up until only a few years ago but now there's a bunch of us that have started to meet.

What's key for many of us is that digital teams need space and support in taking on the role of change agent while ways of working have yet to adapt to the new landscape. And for me its all about accelerating the mainstreaming of core digital tactics. 

If you're not skilling up the whole of your organisation to use digital appropriately then you're failing the future of your organisation.

Laila Takeh is head of digital engagement at UNICEF UK. She blogs here.

Picture credit: Marisol Grandon/Department for International Development'

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Reader Comments (2)

Hi Laila, terrific post, thank you and I think you hit the nail on the head here.

The idea of social business oversight extending beyond web-based activity, and how this is something that enlightened Head of Digital roles can help to champion is crucial I think in helping move the dial and releasing the full measure of social business for charities... and not just charities, it applies to all brands that can benefit from social support, and which ones wouldn't!

Having worked with some big and small charities like Macmillan and Child'si for example, organisations like Thames Valley Housing Association in the public sector, and commercial businesses like Cafe Direct, in every one of these areas the big organisational development challenge it seems to me is that in encouraging people to have specialist skills in different departments areas within organisations for decades, we've lost an appreciation of the kind of cross functional skills and multi-faceted talent that social connectivity is all about.

People who are generalists, or who have cross-departmental capabilities that enable them to translate one skill set into another are natural connectors and highly prized in social business but are potentially marginalised when, in challenging times, HR managers are driven to ever greater levels of micro-precision in hiring people with very particular skills and competencies to manage risk.

The next big step for skills development I think to some extent depends on Departmental Heads, powered by HR, finding the motivation to work together beyond their job descriptions and to be able to connect the dots of social business strategy, so that for example, strategic social brand communications can be co-created by Digital and Marketing teams together at a high level, and job descriptions can be loose enough to allow for social business talent to emerge in random places across organisations. We've still got a long way to go there, largely because so many organisations lack the means to fully envision what they can be when they are social by design or the means by which to get there.

In many ways we're still tinkering around at the edges, and this skilling up of the whole organisation is one of the first important steps to changing that.

August 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnne McCrossan

All interesting and worthwhile considerations.... IF we believe that the only donors, volunteers and supporters of the future will be surgically attached to smart devices.

OK, I'm being deliberately flippant but hopefully we get the point. Digital technology is moving at such a pace that most organisations struggle to keep up with changes, new innovations and the latest 'must have' apps. In this environment, it is increasingly easy to try stuff just because we can rather than because we're confident it will meet our objectives.

And this I think is the real point. The march to everyone in the universe being able to converse in html or gain top score on Angry birds is not, in fact, inexorable. However, needing the right digital skills to make the best use of the digital opportunities THAT ARE ALIGNED TO OUR OBJECTIVES is sound advice from this blog. As charities, our objectives are what the objectives always were... the digital 'revolution' just gives us more choices about how we meet them.

And this does indeed mean that the digital teams should be integrated or at the very least engaged with, whatever campaigning, fundraising, service delivery channels etc a charity has to ensure that the objectives can be most effectively achieved in 2012 and beyond.

August 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKevin Baughen

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