Digital transformation – what does it even mean?

image of post-it notes asking digital transformation - what does it even mean?

You can barely put your head out your front door at the moment without a passerby shouting something about how digital transformation is the hottest new trend. Everywhere we turn, it’s the big thing to do.

Hang on though. What does it even mean?

I recently tweeted that exact question. I wasn’t exactly inundated with replies (apart from Karl Wilding’s answer – that guy knows a thing or two). Which suggests that not everyone is actually sure – and we’re the ones who are supposed to be convincing others of its importance.

So, instead of pointlessly debating the meaning of a term instead of doing meaningful work, let’s look at some facts. They might point the way to what that meaningful work consists of.


Digital maturity = more money raised

Econsultancy’s research shows that digitally mature companies (across all industries) that focus on both digital intensity and transformation management intensity are:

  • 26% more profitable
  • Have a 12% higher market capitalization
  • Derive 9% more revenue from existing assets

Even if a phrase like ‘transformation management intensity’ isn’t, one thing definitely is clear; up the standards of digital marketing across your charity, and your fundraising will grow.

We also know that charities with high digital maturity are more than twice as likely to see an increase in funding than those with low digital maturity.

All of this means more life changing services funded.

What’s more, the same skillset can attract people to use online services, like email counselling and advice forums. That’s what we’re all here for.

Charities are playing catch-up

Did you know that:

  • 58% of charities have no basic digital skills, compared to 23% of SMEs.
  • The e-commerce sector is worth £88 billion a year in the UK
  • £963 million was made by online retailers in just one day (Cyber Monday) last year.

Right now, online fundraising is nowhere near that – for comparison, JustGiving have raised $4 billion in their entire 15-year history (an incredible amount of course). They couldn’t have done it without their high levels of digital maturity, nor could the e-commerce sector raised 22 times that amount.

If the sector is to grow and more lives are to be changed, we have to catch up to the e-commerce sector’s level of digital maturity.

Transformation isn’t limited to your services

In a charity context, digital transformation is often mistakenly thought to mean just your services. If you run face-to-face counselling sessions, for example, scrap them and replace them with online chat.

An idea like that is way too big, and way too bad. Thinking that digital transformation is just this means it’s seen as a tool to destroy valued services and processes. Non-digital folk are rightly scared of and opposed to that, so they avoid everything with the word ‘digital’ in it.

What if your charity started simpler? Depending on where you’re at, could these changes have transformative impact?

  • Knowing what digital channels to focus on for what outcomes. If you run campaigns that involve campaigning for change, starting to send well-crafted emails at the right time to the right people long term would double your impact.
  • Giving everyone in your organisation foundation digital skills. Not just the digital team, but every department using LinkedIn for partnership outreach and using Mailchimp to send hyperlocal marketing emails.
  • Delivering your charitable service online simply via great web content. Clearly written, well broken up text with a logical path to follow, reaching thousands of more people who need life-saving information, there and then.

I discussed this with Mandy Johnson, Director of Partnerhips at She believes transformation is internal first. You have to change the mindset of your entire organisation. From that will flow all the outward facing changes you need – starting the other way round won’t be sustainable long term.

She makes an excellent point.

Three takeaways:

  • Improve your organisation’s digital maturity, and increased fundraising will follow. Start changing the mindsets of your organisation’s staff before you look at external facing things, like a shiny new website.
  • Next time you buy something online, compare the the process with your own donation process. Is your process just as smooth and simple? Work to make it so if not.
  • Start simpler than ‘digitising’ your charitable service. Arm everyone with foundation digital marketing skills to help them do their jobs better.

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