6 skills no one teaches you in charity digital – but should

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For me 2017 is about one thing: skills, skills, skills. With Brexit and Trump on the agenda, our best weapon in volatile times is what we can do well and our expertise. Whatever the political and economic fallout from this year, the rise of automation and the pace of change driven by digital is unlikely to change. It’s time that our sector started discussing what its future looks like, and how to get there. And none of that will be possible without skills.

I feel so strongly about this issue that my agency is working with Skills Platform on the Charity Digital Skills Report , mapping digital skills across the UK charity sector. We’re really keen to hear your views and will share the results to help charities understand how other organisations are using digital, and how your organisation compares. By highlighting any skills gaps we aim to get people talking about where they want the sector to go, and what skills we need to make it happen.

Having worked in digital for a while, the survey has got me thinking about the skills we all need to thrive. My agency also works very closely with CEOs, boards and others in leadership teams with responsibility for digital. I’ve coached and mentored many of them and they are as likely to need support with technical as non-technical areas. I would argue that in order to have a good career in digital you need to supercharge your technical expertise with a broader skillset. These are the skills I’d highlight.

  • Strategy. If you can be the person in your organisation who guides everyone through the opportunities and risks presented by digital then it will be a lot easier to get a seat at the top table. And if you can show them where digital could take them and how to get there then that is invaluable. Strategy is a whole skillset in itself and it can take time, experience and a lot of war stories to cut your teeth in this area. KnowhowNonprofit have plenty of free strategy resources to help you. For serious geeks, The Financial Times have an excellent strategy guidebook. If you are part of a wider digital team, I’d recommend making sure you set aside time for thinking strategically, even if it’s just part of your weekly team meeting.
  • People skills. The job description for most roles will include something about this but in digital roles it’s a really underrated yet vital skill. Working in digital you are at the forefront of change and you’ll have to take your organisation to new places which will feel scary and uncomfortable at times. And if you don’t, you’re not doing it right. It really is stakeholder management on steroids. A book which has been transformative for a lot of the digital professionals I’ve advised is The Charisma Myth by Olivia Fox Cabane. It’ll help you develop your powers of persuasion and the ability to inspire others, and it’s really practical and easy to apply to everyday life in the office.
  • Resilience. Yes, being tough and able to bounce back from setbacks quickly could be seen as a character trait but I’m convinced it’s something you can learn. All the leaders I’ve worked with who’ve taken their organisations through digital transformation successfully have one thing in common: true grit. Technical ability is essential but the ability to keep going and see things through, however hard it might be, will help your charity get on the right road with digital. The School of Life has a good resilience workshop.
  • Creativity. Digital teams are often, rightly, focused on getting the right processes and systems in place. They’re also much in demand and time poor. This means that it can be a real challenge to find time to try new things – ironic when testing and learning is such a big part of digital culture. Digital professionals need to keep developing their creative as well as technical skills. Think about where you have your best ideas (on the train? In the bath? Whilst exercising?) and let yourself have that thinking time. This blog from Hubspot is full of great tips on how to get more creative.
  • The ability to teach- and to learn. I was talking to a charity recently who said, ‘We need someone who can translate digital for our senior management team.’ If you can bridge the gap between techy and non-techy staff and bring them together then you will prove your worth to your charity time and again. The rapid pace of digital means constant learning- again, not easy if you’re stretched. Find a way to keep up to speed on the fly, whether that’s saving up articles to read on your phone during your commute, creating Twitter lists of digital experts or subscribing to newsletters.

What non-digital skills do you think are essential to your job? I’d love to hear your ideas.

Take the Charity Digital Skills Survey. It’s just 5-10 minutes long and your responses will be used to build a picture of digital skills across the charity sector. All responses will be entered into a draw to win Google Adwords Vouchers. Responses must be received by 17 February. 

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Zoe is director of Zoe Amar Communications, a marketing and digital communications consultancy who have worked with leading organisations including ActionAid, Crimestoppers, Macmillan and Anglia Ruskin University. She blogs for The Guardian about charities and communications and is on the advisory board for The Guardian Voluntary Sector Network. She co-founded the charity #socialceos awards.