Last reviewed: 02 March 2021Help us improve this content
If you want your organisation to succeed with digital, it’s really important to get staff and volunteers on board.
Staff and volunteers may not engage for the following reasons.
All of these are reasonable concerns and it’s important for digital leads to engage with staff teams, and address them.
Here are some ways to get staff and volunteers on board, as recommended by digital leaders at small and medium-sized charities.
Change happens differently in every organisation, and you need to know how it works in yours. It’s good to know how staff like to learn, and how information moves about the organisation.
Start with a practical understanding of people's roles - what they do, how they do it, why they do it, and what frustrates them. This will help you make sure any new digital tools or processes will add value to people's jobs. It will help them trust that you've thought about this.
Find your digital champions. People who have influence, not necessarily the most senior, and they may even be your biggest sceptics. Understand their motivations and pain points, and work out how digital can help them. If they become advocates for your way of working, things will go much more easily.
It’s really important to communicate with staff. When you’re introducing new digital systems, it’s easy to get caught up in technical processes and external research. Digital often starts off with intensive work on one system, in one corner of the organisation, involving only a few people. It’s never too early to talk to everyone else, and explain what’s going on.
Involve staff and volunteers if you want to succeed. They are experts in the people who use your services and in their organisation. They’ll have strong views about how services should be run and they have to use the technology.
Our article on dealing with unconscious bias has a starter guide to co-design.
Staff want to know that you’ve done your preparation. Many will have seen IT projects fail in the past. They’ll be worried about the implications for service users and about excluding people, and leaving vulnerable individuals without support.
So show them the user research, and this will go a long way to reassure them.
You can also get support from other places. Show staff that you are following processes that have worked in other charities. Or get support from external experts and consultants who can back up what you’re saying.
Digital leads work hard on new services and systems. It can be easy to get defensive when those systems are challenged or questioned. There are many reasons why staff reservations are reasonable and valid. Digital often brings with it big changes and it can have significant impacts. Challenge may feel like a personal criticism of the digital lead, but it’s very unlikely that it really is, and it’s important to remember this.
It’s much easier to get people on board if you can show that it’s already working, and we recommend starting small. It’s much easier to make all the mistakes when doing something small. Once you have a handful of happy users in one corner of the office it’s easier to persuade others to get involved.
Out Now work to help LGBTQ+ people speak up when they are being mistreated. They want to create an app that will help people in different organisations flag up problems they encounter and to raise them with HR. Their digital agency advise starting small by trying the idea with one company and just one issue. Out Now team up with a local company who want to stop bullying of trans staff members.
Together they create a small app, and supportive volunteers test it out. They make several improvements before thinking about adding any other features. By starting small and co-designing, Out Now has a digital product with the potential to work in other organisations tackling bullying.
It’s easy to be mistrustful and think that decisions are being made to save money and not to deliver better results for staff or users. If you can show that change is happening for the right reasons, staff will show much more trust and engagement.
Things won’t be right the first time. They never are. The whole philosophy of digital says that it’s important to test things, make changes, and iterate frequently.
With staff, this is an opportunity. If you listen to what they tell you, and do something about it, then they are far more likely to engage with you next time. You’ll have a better service too.
Here are some useful resources that could help you get started.
Explore how people have driven digital change in other charities and similar organisations. Browse for the ones that focus on staff and volunteers. Service Recipe collection.
If low skills and confidence is a barrier for your staff and volunteers plan a skills development programme.
Get senior leaders and trustees onboard so they can support staff and volunteers. Share the Charity Digital Code.
This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 02 March 2021
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