Five key findings from the UK Business Digital Index, and our suggestion that we need ‘conversations not lessons’.

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Five key findings from the UK Business Digital Index, and our suggestion that we need ‘conversations not lessons’.

Yesterday the Lloyds UK 2017 ‘Business Digital Index’ report was published. The report measures the digital capability of 2,000 small businesses and charities across the UK, using a combination of actual online behaviour and survey analysis. We’ve read through it and picked out five of the most interesting new findings about charities’ digital capabilities and attitudes.


1. There are more charities lacking basic digital skills than there were last year.

First, of all, we should probably talk about what ‘basic digital skills’ are. Broadly speaking these are categories of things organisations should be able to do with digital. There are five categories in total

  • Communicating i.e. being able to communicate, interact, collaborate, share and connect with others
  • Creating i.e. being able to engage with communities and create basic digital content
  • Managing information i.e. being able to find, manage and store digital information and content
  • Problem solving i.e. being able to increase independence and confidence by solving problems using digital tools and finding solutions, and
  • Transacting i.e. being able to purchase and sell goods and services, organise finances, register for and use Government digital services

To be deemed to have ‘basic digital skills’, an organisation must be able to do at least one thing within each of these five categories.

So, now we’ve got the definition out of the way, let’s go back to the headline – in this report Lloyds found that more than half (52%) of charities don’t have basic digital skills. This news is especially bruising since it’s an increase on last year, when 40% of charities were found to lack basic digital skills. In fact, the results aren’t great when you see them year on year:

  • In 2014, 55% of charities lacked basic digital skills.
  • In 2015, it was 58%
  • In 2016, it was 49%
  • And now in 2017, it’s 52%

Meaning that, effectively, since the first Business Digital Index in 2014 we’ve moved by 3%. In four years. From 55% of charities lacking basic digital skills, to 52%. We should take it as a positive that the movement is downwards, with fewer charities lacking basic digital skills in 2017 than in 2014. But, progress is pretty slow.

Another interesting finding on basic digital skills from this year’s report, is that 5% of charities have no basic digital skills at all (i.e. they’re unable to do any of the tasks within any of the five categories set out above). And at the other end of the scale, 48% of charities now have full basic digital skills (i.e. they’re able to do all of the tasks within all of the five categories set out above). This leads on to my next point…


2. There is also a bigger divide between charities.

As well as the idea of basic digital skills, the Lloyds report also uses an ‘index score’ to indicate digital maturity and capability. This basically means that Lloyds looks at an organisation’s digital behaviour and gives them a score between 0 (least digitally capable) to 100 (most digitally capable). This is also broken into five segments:

  • Passive (an index score of 0 – 18)
  • Getting started (18 – 34)
  • Established (34 – 48)
  • High (48 – 62)
  • Advanced (62 – 100)

They also give the sector as a whole an overall score, this year it’s 43. This is a slight increase from last year when it was 42, and a big increase from the first report in 2014, when it was 24.

So, whilst the proportion of charities lacking basic digital skills has increased, so too has the sector’s overall index score. Somehow, we have more organisations lacking basic digital skills, but as a sector we’re more digitally capable overall. This seems contradictory!

It starts to make more sense when you look at the distribution of organisations across each of the index segments (as discussed above). In this year’s report there are more charities in the most digitally capable ‘Advanced’ segment (21% in 2017, compared to 18% in 2016), and there are more charities in the least digitally capable ‘Passive’ segment (16% in 2017, compared to 12% in 2016). The contrast is even more stark when you include a comparison with the first report in 2014, since then there are now five times more charities in the ‘Advanced’ segment (rising from 4% to 21%).

What this means in real terms is that there is a bigger divide between charities, with some getting better and better digital capabilities, and leaving others behind.


3. Communicating and transacting are the most common skills, and problem solving the least.

Going back to basic digital skills, the report shows that:

  • 85% of charities can complete at least one task within the communicating category
  • 85% of charities can complete at least one transacting task
  • 74% creating
  • 71% managing information, and
  • 64% problem solving

So, communicating and transacting are the most common skills, with the vast majority of charities being competent in these areas.

You might be wondering why each is so high, problem solving is the least common skill and yet still over half of charities have it. This is because most charities have more than one basic skill (88%, in fact), only 12% of charities have one or no skills. Remember that you have to have all five to be deemed to ‘have basic digital skills’. Here’s how it breaks down (the first five are the groups making up the 52% of organisations without basic digital skills):

  • No skills 5%
  • One Skill 7%
  • Two skills 10%
  • Three skills 10%
  • Four skills 20%
  • Five skills 48%


4. The most commonly cited benefit of digital is saving time – in fact you could save a whole day each week.

We wrote a blog recently on the point of using digital for charities, but it turns out you can add to that list saving time since 73% of charities did say that in this year’s report. And, those who did report that digital saved them time reported saving an average of 18% on a weekly basis i.e. the equivalent of a day a week!

Saving time was the most common answer, but charities also listed:

  • Attracting more volunteers and donors (49% of charities said this)
  • Increased interaction with supporters (49%)
  • Using mobile to do business on the move (49%)
  • Simplified process of taking payments or donations (44%)
  • More effective marketing (39%)
  • Cost savings (35%)
  • Wider geographic coverage in the UK (33%)
  • Increased donations (28%)
  • Can use my mobile to take payments (8%)

Interestingly, more digitally capable charities were also found to have more confidence in their future than charities with lower digital index scores – 83% of charities in the most digitally capable ‘Advanced’ segment said they are ‘confident’ in their organisation’s future, compared to 69% in the least digitally capable ‘Passive’ segment.

14% of charities also said ‘none of these’ were benefits of using digital, it’s not clear from the report whether that’s because they felt something else was an important benefit of digital to them, or if it’s because they saw no benefits. Which leads on to my final point…


5. The biggest barrier to doing more online is motivation.

When looking at why charities don’t do more online, the most common response was that being online is not seen as relevant for the organisation:

  • Being online is not seen as ‘relevant’ for our charity (33% of charities said this)
  • Lack of staff digital or online skills (31%)
  • No time to set up and go online (24%)
  • Concerns about information security/fraud (23%)
  • Just not interested in going online (20%)
  • Not worth the investment (20%)
  • Cost of investment unknown (18%)
  • Nothing, feel that we are doing all we can online (15%)
  • Too expensive (14%)
  • Poor connectivity e.g. slow speeds, no superfast broadband (12%)
  • We are in the process of doing more (1%)

The second most common response was ‘lack of staff digital or online skills’, with almost a third of charities citing this as a barrier. This is an increase since the first Business Index Report in 2014, when only 10% gave this response. This is interesting, because the report suggests that the number of staff with low digital skills hasn’t significantly increased, so it’s more likely that that charities are more aware of the need for specialist digital skills for their organisation. What’s really interesting about this is that the majority of charities (81%) aren’t investing any of their budget in digital skills (and this is an increase from 2016 when 78% of charities weren’t investing anything in digital skills).


One more thing.

A third or charities don’t see being online as relevant to them, an opinion that has stayed pretty consistent over time:

  • In 2014, 32% of charities didn’t see online as being relevant to them
  • In 2106, 33% didn’t, and
  • In 2017, it’s still 33%

Clearly whatever it is we as a sector have been doing for the last 4 years to convince people that using digital is good and important, it hasn’t been working brilliantly!

Maybe it’s because we’re looking at the wrong thing. Making more use of digital isn’t simply about skill, interest is important! According to this year’s report, 33% of charity leaders are happy to use social media for personal use but don’t use it for their organisation, the report says, “This suggests a lack of confidence or interest, not a lack of capability”.

Clearly there are a large proportion of the sector, who do lack capability (well, 52% to be precise, as discussed earlier). My point here isn’t that all those charities do really know how to use digital but choose not to, but rather that part of the reason people choose not to become more digitally capable is because they don’t want to – they don’t think it’s relevant, they don’t see the point of it for them – not just simply because they don’t know how to.

This is why strategy is so important (and anyone who is familiar with Fancy Guppy will know we are always going on about the importance of strategy). Digital needs to be used and applied in a way that works for each individual organisation, it’s not as simple as to say ‘everyone should be doing x’ (e.g. everyone should have social media, everyone should look at their website analytics, etc.). If we keep trying to upskill the sector by continually banging our drum saying that everyone should be doing a particular thing, there will continue to be a lot of people who it won’t seem relevant to. Because it’s not. Because not everything works for everyone.

Here’s the thing, as well as showing a gap between the most and least digitally capable charities, there was also an age and size gap:

  • 45% of charities more than 10 years old have basic digital skills, compared to 61% of charities less than years old (a 16% difference)
  • Larger charities have a bigger index score than smaller charities, in 2014 there was four point difference between them, now in 2017 there is an eight point difference

Are we really so arrogant as to say small charities, or those that have been around for 10 years or more, are wrong and we are right? No, of course, not. We have to acknowledge that smaller and older charities have a lot of knowledge that larger and younger charities might do well to listen to. As well they might do well to listen to more digitally savy organisations.

But it’s a conversation, not a lesson. A conversation about how we can all learn from one another. Perhaps we’d get further in reducing that percentage of people who feel online isn’t relevant to their organisation, if there was more focus on getting stuff done, and how digital may or may not help with that, than on getting digital skills.

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