Skip to main content

A digestible guide to the Charity Digital Code of Practice

In this article, Trillium’s Head of Strategy, David Spector, summarises The Charity Digital Code of Practice, with some straightforward, actionable advice, on a single (web) page. Scrolling required!

One of the most significant digital occasions for charities during 2018 (excluding GDPR – remember that?), was the release of the of The Charity Digital Code of Practice. Launched in November, this is an initiative developed by a steering group that includes, amongst others, Tech TrustCo-op Foundation and Lloyds.

The necessity for the code of practice was identified as a result of the Lloyds Bank UK Business Digital Index 2017.  The index illustrated that only 48% of charities surveyed had complete, basic digital fluency, along with a lack of confidence, at a leadership level, in introducing digital change. It is a key product of the government’s Digital Skills Partnership initiative.       

What is the purpose of The Charity Digital Code of Practice?

Before describing the code’s purpose, it is worth considering how the term ‘digital’ is defined in this context. The code uses the Co-op’s definition of ‘digital’, summarised as ‘Applying the culture, practices, processes and technologies of the Internet era to respond to people’s raised expectations”. Whilst this is a broad remit, the Charity Digital Code of Practice provides a framework that allows organisations to benchmark their digital progress and inform related decision-making. It consists of 7 key principlesLeadershipUsersCultureStrategySkillsManaging Risk & Ethics and Adaptability.

What does The Charity Digital Code of Practice mean for charities  and how can it help achieve your goals?

Extensive detail of the Charity Digital Code of Practice can be found on numerous websites, some of which are included in the Further Reading section later, but this article aims to condense that information into a single digest, with some actionable advice for each of the key areas.

Hopefully, following this advice will give you an indication of how well your charity is doing in comparison to the ideal. You will get some ideas for what short and longer-term measures you can put in place or start planning, to get closer to reaching your organisation’s goals through digital.

The Magnificent Seven (Key Principles of The Charity Digital Code of Practice)

1. Leadership
What it means

It sounds obvious, but leaders must lead the way. Change may be validated from any part of an organisation, but only leadership can enforce it as part of the organisation’s DNA. This goes beyond simple soundbites. It means digital should be an integral skillset for leaders, allowing them to understand how it can be leveraged to reflect the organisation’s vision and purpose, achieve its goals and improve sustainability.

In practice:
  • A board where everyone understands the importance of digital, not just from a marketing and engagement perspective, but as a facilitator for organisational change as a whole
  • Digital skills representation at board level
  • Governance, policies and procedures appropriate for the digital age, e.g. with respect to social media, data, cyber security, etc.
  • Awareness and appreciation of the investment required to enable digital to make a difference, and the value it will bring. This extends to recruitment of future staff and the upskilling of existing resources
  • Digital experts throughout the organisation should regularly seek (and be invited) to share knowledge with the board/trustees/senior stakeholders 


2. Users
What it means

Putting users first should be at the core of digital transformation for any organisation. This means taking the time to understand the needs and behaviours of all users, ranging from those who benefit from the charity, stakeholders and internal staff who have to use related systems. More than half the population in any age group uses the internet regularly, increasingly from mobile devices, multi-device user experience has to be at the forefront of digital initiatives.

In practice:
  • Adopt a ‘users-first’ mindset
  • Use analytics data and other quantitative insights to ascertain user-behaviours, along with qualitative evidence, e.g. from surveys, user focus groups, etc.
  • Map user journeys for key audience segments, e.g. supporters, beneficiaries, etc, to inform delivery of services and solutions development
  • Do not roll out innovations to all users without validating through testing on smaller groups
  • Carefully consider accessibility requirements, taking W3C guidance into account, with the acknowledgement that these may require greater investment and potentially some design compromises to be made


3. Culture
What it means

One of the most common obstacles when it comes to digital transformation is existing culture, which can often be resistant to change for a number of reasons, including lack of confidence, perceived value and related budget. Again, the example needs to be set from above. Staff and supporters will be willing to embrace new ideas if presented with enthusiasm, belief and assurance.

In practice:
  • Demonstrate how digital can help achieve goals, e.g. more donations, better service to beneficiaries, etc., using examples of where it had been done elsewhere
  • Foster a collaborative environment – solicit feedback and ideas from the wider organisation
  • Educate – run presentations and workshops to show how digital is being used within the organisation, its impact and future roadmap; facilitate training for identified skills gaps
  • Review organisational structure with a view to better supporting digital transformation – creating a less hierarchical structure can lead to faster progress
  • Consider sharing and reuse of digital assets, such as content and insights, with other charities – this creates a visible culture of digital evangelism


4. Strategy
What it means

Strategy defines vision for change. Without it, direction is frequently lost, budget poorly spent and enthusiasm wanes. Strategy provides clarity and direction with respect to using digital to achieve organisational goals and address stakeholder needs.

In practice:
  • Start with a clear definition of your organisation’s goals and how success will be measured; utilise data (both internal and external to your organisation), where available, to help validate decisions
  • Effectiveness isn’t always related to budget – be creative in your thinking. Similarly, don’t use digital where it isn’t the right channel, just because it’s digital.
  • Identify roles and responsibilities and makes sure they are communicated throughout the organisation
  • Adopt a policy of digital inclusion that factors in ability to access and use the internet at all levels, assistive technology and offline alternatives
  • Identify potential impediments and include solutions as part of your core strategy. These could include protracted procurement, legacy systems, resource availability, etc.. Be ambitious, but realistic


5. Skills
What it means

Digital fluency accelerates transformation progress. It is required at all organisational levels and everyone who interacts with a charity has a role. Being aware of how digitally skilled your workforce, stakeholders and beneficiaries are is essential. It directs training and resource requirements, as well as meeting external user needs.

In practice:
  • A good understanding of what digital fluency constitutes and an awareness and honest appraisal of current ability throughout the organisation
  • Digital-centric roles should be identified in line with overall strategy, with appropriate resourcing or upskilling. This includes identifying existing team members in other roles that may have relevant digital skills; be transparent with recruitment efforts
  • Training should be considered a key part of any digital strategy.Not only does digital evolve, but personal development demonstrates commitment and improves staff retention
  • Consider creatively recruiting, e.g. volunteers may be able to plug some gaps. This can be quite effective for smaller charities
  • Encourage knowledge sharing, e.g. through informal presentations, shadowing or bringing in external speakers


6. Managing Risk & Ethics 
What it means

A channel as expansive and devolved as digital brings with it a range of risks that need to be carefully managed, particularly in a sector where many of the users are vulnerable. Policies related to aspects from data security to ethical partnerships need to be in place and visible adhered to, in order to maintain trust and protect reputation.

In practice:
  • Risk management should be an integral part of strategy and relevant skills available to perform assessments and provide recommendations
  • All measures should be taken to secure technology systems, which may require external assistance; Cyber Essentials provides a framework for assessing and improving your current security, which addresses passwords, devices, data, etc.  Achieving certification can increase public confidence
  • Externally procured systems and vendors (including individual contractors) should be subject to adequate due diligence and risks should be regularly reviewed, including processes and potential future technologies
  • Provide clear statements regarding data usage, sharing, processes for acquisition and removal, etc. (you know, that nice GDPR stuff!)
  • Choose partners whose ethical values match those of your organisation


7. Adaptability
What it means

In an increasingly competitive sector, with digital user behaviour constantly evolving, it’s important to have the ability to adapt. Though a thorough strategy should include a well-researched roadmap, changes in how digital is used can be hard to predict. Additionally, different audiences with different behaviours may be identified as targets in the future. 

In practice:
  • Systems should be interoperable and straightforward to decouple from each other; integration should be available using industry standard methods, e.g. for APIs
  • Device independence should be sought, where possible, particularly for stakeholders
  • A single source of data is desirable, along with a single customer view, which facilitates improved and more personalised services and experiences
  • IT, digital, marketing and other technology-centric teams should work closely together and understand each other’s goals and processes
  • Adopting an agile mindset and regular measurement allows incremental improvements and the introduction and concept-testing of new products and services; it also enables concept testing


There is one overarching theme for The Charity Digital Code of Practice and that is people.There are two principles upon which all others stand – Leadership and Users. Enthusiasm, confidence and belief run downstream.

A thorough understanding of users experience defines the needs that must be supported to achieve the organisation’s goals.

All other principles stem from Leadership, as this is what is responsible for instilling the right culture, ensuring the necessary skills and sharing the vision, along with a clear strategy to achieve it. 

So where do you start? Complying with the entire code is a sizeable task, even for well-equipped charities, so don’t be disheartened. As with any strategy, prioritisation is key. 

Identify the principle components that are not only current pressing issues, but also ones that are relatively easy to achieve. Chipping away at the quick-wins all adds up, creating a sense of achievement that encourages continued effort. 

As a final takeaway, use this article’s description of the principles as a simple checklist/agenda for the year’s digital progress. Taking small, achievable steps, you’ll be surprised at just how far you’ll have come!


Further Reading

If your interest has been suitably stirred (as it should be), you can learn more about The Charity Digital Code of Practice by following the links below:


For full immersion, The Charity Digital Code of Practice should be read along with the following other codes and best practice documents:

This site uses cookies

We use cookies to improve user experience. By using our website you consent to all cookies in accordance with our Cookie Policy, details of which are found in our Privacy Policy

Back to top