'Charities won't be able to unleash their digital potential until they sort the basics out'

07 Nov 2019 News

Charities should not get “distracted” by digital projects if they “have not got the basics right”, Parkinson’s UK's director of transformation and communications said yesterday. 

Julie Dodd was speaking at the Charity Technology Conference, run by Civil Society Media, about the “risk” of charities overlooking issues like data infrastructure because of the “pressure” on the sector.

She said “there is real pressure on our organisations to try and create change quickly”, but that charities should be “realistic”.

“Things have huge potential but you cannot start to unleash that potential until you have got the basics right,” she said.

Dodd said she “learnt that lesson the hard way” at Parkinson's UK. She was trying to “think of really innovative stuff”, but actually needed to tackle things like paper-based processes and outdated devices.

“What is sensible and what we have done is focused on our people,” she said. “We have really spent time investing in our people, we have brought in a wide range of different expertise and started to shift the teams that we have”.

'Digital is not a separate thing'

Dodd encouraged charities to stop thinking about digital as a stand-alone department, and has recently removed the word “digital” from her own job title.

She said: “We have stopped trying to bracket digital as a separate thing.”

Parkinson’s UK has also “really invested in senior technology leadership”. Dodd said that senior digital leadership is necessary to “drive change” and that often people at a lower level need more “control”.

She encouraged leaders to start “giving away that power” and “decentralising”.

‘Society is changing’

“We know that we are living in a rapidly ageing society” and “in a time of great social inequality”, said Dodd. She added that “society is changing”, and that the sector “needs to respond to those changes”.

There is a constant and growing “pressure” on charities to “adapt” to “changing expectations and needs”, but technological devices “are really just servants to the cultural changes we want to see”.

Dodd said charities are “really having to run to keep up with the changes that are happening as a byproduct of technological advancement”. She said “there is a bit of a dark side here, we know that big tech is starting to impact internet openness”, and that “cybersecurity is a huge risk” for charities. 

Dodd said there needs to be a shift in the conversation around ethics and also towards pragmatic questions. 

“That shift towards the conversation about ethics is starting to really show up and that is a positive thing,” she said, but “there are a lot of questions around ethics that I do not think we as a sector have fully got our heads around”.

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