In the same way that organisational and digital strategy are gradually merging, so are digital and leadership skills. I was reminded of this last week, as we watched our latest cohort graduate from our fourth Third Sector Digital Leaders’ programme, which we created in partnership with The School for Social Entrepreneurs a couple of years ago.

Our latest graduates were keen, ambitious and had creative approaches to how their organisations could use digital to raise their game. You can see this in their definitions of digital below. The way our latest cohort describe it shows how some leaders are developing a deep knowledge of digital and are hungry to use it to help their organisations move ahead.

We also asked them to define digital leadership. I particularly like the first two definitions : ‘Harnessing digital and new technologies to remedy problems and help others to do the same’ and ‘Someone who appreciates how digital can help their organisation meet its aims and objectives, and who spreads that by building organisational understanding and capacity.’ What do you think?

A big part of the course involves hearing from experts in the field, who share their lessons learned and war stories. Our speakers included leaders from NSPCC, Lightful, Platypus Digital, Maggie’s Centres, Breast Cancer Now, and the Forces Network. Here’s what we learned from them.

  • Our current cohort were particularly interested in emerging tech, and Susie Perks, Client Director at Lightful, advised them to consider it as part of the overall supporter experience. She said that charities are likely to use automation more in the future, and the trick is to incorporate it without the supporter journey becoming transactional. She gave the example of War Child, who send donors a personal handwritten thank you card from a fundraiser once they have donated for a year. As Susie pointed out, the reminder for that action is automated but the action isn’t. Automation may change behaviour but organisations always need to remember ‘What you want people to feel is as important as what you want people to do.’
  • Clive Gardiner, Head of Digital at NSPCC gave a brilliant presentation on what charities can learn from the way that the music industry has been disrupted. He believes that charities should plan for tomorrow by analysing customer journeys, defining and measuring KPIs, investing in horizon scanning, benchmarking themselves against similar organisations, building skills (aim to be T shaped ie breadth and depth) and define your future supporters.

  • Matt Collins, MD of Platypus Digital gave everyone a great crash course in the key metrics in digital, demystifying the main concepts. He encouraged everyone to think through what conversion looks like for them and to try out new approaches.

  • Graeme Manuel-Jones, Digital Development Manager at Maggie’s shared his insights into how to adopt agile, develop digital products and manage culture change. It was a packed session but Graeme had a wealth of experience to share from his time at Diabetes UK and in his current role. His top tips included getting product owners in place, adopting agile in a way that works for your organisation (I’ve attempted to bust some myths about agile here), and getting staff to emotionally invest in new ways of working, whether that’s a new intranet or a more collaborative office space. Communications about any change are vital. As Graeme said, “Whatever you build, if people don’t know that it’s there, they’re not going to use it.”

  • On the next block we heard from Adam Waters, Director of Digital Content at the Forces Network. Adam talked about how to bring people with you as organisations adopt digital further, explaining that fear is often behind hostility to change. He advised everyone to address this by setting out a clear, simple approach, using digital to stay relevant (his charity work closely with the military, who now often use digital channels to recruit), and to make it as inclusive as possible. Adam talked about how some of the older colleagues he has worked with sometimes worry about not being digital natives, to which he points out that two of the biggest online influencers in the world (the Pope and Donald Trump) are both older than 70. He also came up with this excellent principle:

Adam also shared some tips on how organisations could deal with a crisis online:

  • Joe Freeman, Assistant Director of Digital at Breast Cancer Now returned to give us a special extended session about building high performing digital teams. He discussed how teams need to balance sharing their expertise with operational work, why their leaders should be hiring for potential as much as experience and building confidence through incremental change.

We also had sessions to help our cohort develop digital strategies, and how they could grow their own social media presences.

Finally our cohort each presented their own strategies. It was really inspiring to see how ambitious and well thought out these were, tailored around how digital was changing the way their supporters live and work.

Due to demand we’re running the programme again in 2018 and you can apply for our fifth cohort here  (our next intake is autumn).The programme is open to third sector leaders from charities, social enterprises and other nonprofits of all sizes and causes, whether you’re fairly new to digital or advanced.

We’d love to see you there. Find out more.