Roger Swannell

Tag: digital (page 1 of 7)

Overherd: Making digital work for the not for profit sector

Notes from talks about digital from Samaritans, Water:Charity UK, War Child, and Crowe UK.


Sometimes digital happens by accident.

Always ask ‘why’ before starting a new project.

Should be using digital to make people’s lives better.

Not everything has to be done the way it’s always been done.

Challenges of achieving brand consistency on website and across social channels.

Rebuilding the website was undertaken in two phases. Phase one got the technical base in place, and phase two was design and content.

Content strategy evolved by accident but involved auditing the current content, learning about the audience, identifying measures of success, and creating toolkits and workflows.

Creating ‘toolkits’ helped people learn as they understood what the phrase meant and how it matched their expectations.

When creating the Toolkits, be aware that:

  • You are not the expert
  • You are not the user
  • You need to connect the two
  • It’s going to require some work
  • But it’ll be worth it

Toolkits involved:

  • Audience research
  • Key messaging
  • Writing for users & analytics guidance
  • Social media guidelines
  • Photography and image guidelines
  • Training sessions
  • Workflows
  • And lots of support


Mission is to reinvent charity.

Use digital to tell stories and solve problems.

Not talking about the charity but about the people who are helped.

Aim to do everything with excellence, we owe it to our supporters.

100% of donations go towards front-line services. Overheads are funded by a small number of high-value individuals and families.

Work with influencers and provide downloadable assets for them to use.

Challenges for digital is how to take what Charity:Water does and do it online.

First to do Birthday Pledges to ask people to make donations rather than buy gifts.

Add all projects to Google Maps to increase transparency.

Received a grant from Google to add sensors to pumps to monitor flow to show when and how pumps are being used, and detect and predict faults.

Digital brings the supporter closer to the impact their money has, it connects them to ‘someone like you’.

Just keep trying new things.

War Child

Digital at Warchild is made up of a Digital and Content Team,  a dedicated Gaming Team, digital skills in other teams, and a cross-organisational digital maturity team.

Challenges around showing beneficiaries: Accessibility, Representation, Complexity.

Constraints force you to think creatively.

When you can’t talk to service users you have to think differently about how to show the impact, e.g. Graphic novel and #EscapeRobot video.

Use longform content to digitise large pdf reports.

Sometimes people think that because something is digital that it needs to be new and cool.

Explore new spaces and opportunities.

Crowe UK

Cyber Fraud accounts for 54% of all crimes.

Crime has transitioned to online.

43% of organisations have suffered a breach. The others either haven’t found it yet or it’s happening this year.

There’s a strong relationship between online fraud and the dark web.

Online fraud isn’t about ripping off individuals, it’s about using individuals details to rip of businesses.

Most online fraud isn’t investigated because police forces don’t know how to handle crime that doesn’t occur in a single geographic region.


Some thoughts on a reflective digital practice

Reflective practice is used in other fields such as social work and nursing, and I think there are lots of benefits to being more reflective in our digital work.

What is reflective practice

Reflective practice is an active, dynamic action-based and ethical set of skills, placed in real time and dealing with real, complex and difficult situations.

Moon, J. (1999), Reflection in Learning and Professional Development: Theory and Practice, Kogan Page, London.

Reflective practice is, in its simplest form, thinking about or reflecting on what you do. It’s about giving yourself the opportunities to learn from experience. You spend time thinking about what you did, and what happened, and decide from that what you would do differently next time. It’s a habit, a skill, to be developed. It’s sometimes a difficult thing to do when under pressure to produce more outputs, but it has many benefits.

Some of the benefits of reflective practice

Reflective practice is a skill that when practiced well allows you to join the higher level thinking and theory with the lower level day-to-day activities and experiences. It creates a mindset that asks questions, seeks different points of view, considers how things connect and affect each other and brings to light issues and problems.

Benefits include

  • Helping you to identify areas of strengths and weaknesses, interests and areas they’d like to develop
  • Helping you feel more confident and in control of their learning and development
  • Helping teams feel more cohesion as they learn together

How to become more reflective

In People Skills, Neil Thompson, suggests that there are six steps to becoming more reflective:

  • Read – around the topics you are learning about or want to learn about and develop
  • Ask – others about the way they do things and why
  • Watch – what is going on around you
  • Feel – pay attention to your emotions, what prompts them, and how you deal with negative ones
  • Talk – share your views and experiences with others in your organisation
  • Think – learn to value time spent thinking about your work

Some ideas for a more reflective practice


Retrospectives are a part of Scrum and Agile thinking. They are an opportunity to think back about how a particular piece of work went. They can be formal meetings or quick conversations.

It works because:

  • More formal versions of retrospectives such as meetings and reports communicate to the team that reflective practice is valued
  • The discussion allows people to reflect together and learn from each other
  • They can lead to changes and improvements in practice

Weekly update email

Every Friday send an email to interested people saying what you did this week and what you’ll be doing next week.

It works because:

  • It’s good to communicate
  • It makes you look back over the past week and forward to the next week
  • It’s of the moment with no consequences or accountability
  • It’s in easy to read sound bites
  • It isn’t a project update so it can be lighter, more general

Time tracking

Record, even roughly, how you spend your time during the working week.

It works because:

  • It’s purely quantitative, there is no connection to outcome at the point of recording meaning there is no need to justify how you spent your time
  • It helps you to think about when you do things not just what you do, so if you notice you haven’t put any time into a particular project you can do that next week
  • Over time you start to see which parts of your work take up your time. This enables you to think about whether time spent equals value delivered

Read books and articles

Reading seems to be one of the least valued work activities, even among knowledge workers, but it should be encouraged as part of a reflective practice.

It works because

  • It brings in ideas from outside the team or organisation
  • Lots of people can read the same thing, discuss it and reach a common understanding
  • It builds knowledge quickly making reflecting on other things easier

5 digital trends charities should definitely not avoid in 2019

This JustGiving blog post includes five “trends” (it’s questionable whether these five things are actually trends; a trend is the direction a thing moves or changes not the thing itself, but moving on…) that charities should avoid in 2019. I’m not sure blanket statements about what charities should avoid is very helpful so I wanted to reconsider them.

I agree that charities probably do need more focus, but given that the charity industry is going through massive changes and challenges, not least of which is concerned with how to be more innovative, perhaps the ‘head in the sand’ approach of avoiding things just because they haven’t necessarily reached the plateau of productivity on the hype curve may be counterproductive. There are models for considering new things (such as McKinsey’s three horizons) that can foster discussion rather than shutting down the conversation and prepare charities with a healthy pipeline of innovative ways to achieve their objectives.

Viral campaigns

A bit like buying a lottery ticket instead of learning how to earn money from an actual job every day

That senior management in charities prioritise short term fundraising initiatives in the hope of making a quick buck suggests a misunderstanding either on the part of management or marketers, but I struggle to accept that all the very smart people that I know who run and market charities fall into such an obvious trap.

Virality has a scientific definition. It is an achievable thing with sufficient planning and resources. The ability to understand and utilise vitality in trends should be one of the tools in a fundraisers bag, not at the expense of longer term planning, but as a means of leveraging current events and temporary things that pop up in the consciousness of people.

#Firstfiver was a great example of a viral campaign that could of benefited far more charities than it did if more of them had already considered how to solve the logistical challenges of getting paper five pound notes in people’s pockets into a physical donation tins. A charity that has prepared ahead of time to respond to raising trends, not just by sending a few tweets with a hashtag, but by offering solutions for members of the public to support a charity they might not usually consider could leverage a trend into a significant financial contribution.

So if 99.99% of charities choose not to consider the potential for viral trends in their marketing and fundraising planning for 2019, then that leaves more space for the .01% who do decide to commit to building the capacity to responding quickly to events in a fast changing world in a way that amplifies the trend and achieves their objectives, be they awareness raising, income generation, or mass action.

Digital transformation

Transformation’ implies magical, overnight change

If digital transformation is being communicated as an overnight solution to all a charity’s ills then it is the communication that is at fault, not digital transformation. Just as the industrial revolution took hundreds of years to play out, so will the digital transformation of our society. It already and will continue to touch every part of our lives, from our health care records to traffic management to paying for a coffee. Digital transformation involves transforming technologies, cultures, mindsets, behaviours and thinking. It cannot be thought of as a quick fix.

Charities that don’t adopt the mindset and adapt to this changing world will find themselves irrelevent in the eyes of their staff, volunteers and supporters. Can anyone imagine engaging with a charity only through face-to-face contact because they don’t have a website or use email? No, of course not, because every charity has a website and uses email, so their digital transformation has already begun. To ignore ongoing transformation in 2019 and not embed digital into their strategy, not improve the reach, efficiency, and cost-reduction benefits of online fundraising, not support their staff and volunteers to improve their digital skills, will leave a charity even further behind. Charities should be accelerating their digital transformation in 2019 and beyond.


There are just three problems with Bitcoin

There are just three solutions with Bitcoin (and other cryptocurrencies of which bitcoin is one of many).

Mining bitcoins does take a lot of energy. Generating renewable energy from wind power had the same inefficiency issue when it was introduced. It cost more to produce the power than it was worth, but pioneers and early adopters used and developed the technology into a viable alternative and soon it will be more cost-efficient to use renewable energy sources than mine for fossil fuels. The more organisations looking at opportunities to leverage the benefits of cryptocurrencies, the more funding will be driven into development, and the more efficient and viable they will become.

Bitcoins are a currency used on the dark web, but far more criminals use cash. Does this mean charities shouldn’t accept cash? Of course not. Criminals using something does not mean a charity shouldn’t use it. There is no logical argument here for charities to not spend time understanding how cryptocurrencies might affect them or be utilised by them.

Third – and this is a big one – people who donate to charities just don’t use it… yet. No one used contactless cards to donate to charities.. until they did. But charities exploring options around cryptocurrencies should involve more than just taking donations, they should be looking at how cryptocurrencies will change their investment portfolio, how it may change banking practice and consequently their finance governance.

Charities might not be committing significant resources to building the systems and skills to take bitcoin donations in 2019, but cryptocurrencies should definitely be in their horizon three initiatives with people in Digital, Technology and Finance thinking about how to handle bitcoin and cryptocurrency in the near future.


Treat blockchain like I’m a Celebrity – Get Me Out of Here! By all means, watch it and follow it, but don’t spend precious work time on it

In the early 70’s when the relational data model was invented lots of people thought it was useless. Why would you want to establish a relationship between two pieces of data? Nowadays relational databases power every charity’s CRM system.

Blockchains are decentralized, distributed, sometimes-public digital ledgers that are used to record transactions across many computers, which although not the answer to every data storage problem, do have some specific uses which can apply to and benefit charities. Where a charity is working with multiple organisations who all contribute data, and all parties want unshakeable assurance that the data is reliable, and those partnerships require that no single organisation is the owner and controller of the transactional record, then blockchain might be a solution.

Blockchain will increase in prevalence over the coming years and become the de facto solution where data needs to be decentralised and distributed across a network to ensure trust in the recorded transactions. So if charities aren’t giving serious thought to use cases for blockchain and would rather continue in the mindset of centralising data under their control and watch reality TV shows instead, then they will find themselves investing in the wrong solutions in the very near future.


But don’t spend precious time importing agile wholesale when it’s a square peg for a round hole.

Referring to the original manifesto for agile software development as the only source of thinking about Agile is very limited, as is only referring to Scrum when speaking about Agile. Being agile means (among other things depending on whose thinking you’re referencing) getting closer to customers, working in small batches, having short feedback loops, and responding to change. Navy SEAL teams use Scrum to improve ownership among team members. Marketers apply agile thinking when they involve customers by testing ideas ahead of launching a campaign. There are lots of examples of how Agile can be applied to more than just software development.

Charities should most definitely not be avoiding working towards achieving greater agility, “moving with quickness, ease and grace“, as Joshua Kerievsky puts it. Agility is a key competitive advantage that has been realised in almost every other industry. If charities don’t become far more agile than they currently are they run the very real risk of being left behind, not only as an organisation but as an industry. They will quickly be overtaken as more agile startups and businesses move into their markets. There is nothing that charities do that could not be usurped by a business, leaving the charity behind and irrelevant in the eyes of its supporters. Having agility is essential for charities to keep pace with the changing modern world and people’s changing expectations.



There are lots of other innovative developments in thinking and technology in addition to these five that I also think charities should also be considering in 2019, things like machine learning, 3D printing, co-creation, autonomous teams, digital twins, the quantified and augmented self, AR & VR, voice & virtual assistants., etc., etc. A charity that has all of its focus on the mainstream technologies and thinking of the past is being left further and further behind. Charities need to be exploring all the new ideas they can using a robust innovation model that allows them to extract value at the right point in time.

Digital Strategy by Clive Gardner at Overherd

Overherd Clive Gardner NSPCC Digital

Notes from Clive’s presentation:

  • The NSPCC has a child audience and an adult audience with very different needs
  • They have about a hundred campaigns a year.
  • The campaigns explain a need, and that the need needs help.
  • Only about 20% of the messages in a campaign ask for money.
  • Other messages build the NSPCC as a favourite brand.
  • Charities are not transforming digitally fast enough to reflect the world around us.
  • Charities shouldn’t be at the leading edge of marketing.
  • In order to innovate, big slow charities need to work with fast partners.
  • Learn from those who are doing it well
  • Digital is a way of doing things.
  • Digital has to help set the culture to be able to respond to needs faster.
  • Building a preference centre helped towards a single customer view but it’s still five years away.
  • Digital Risk Assessment needs a ‘Pace’ dimension to add to Severity and Likelihood

Digital Design Principles

10 design principles to help charities build better digital services:

  1. Start with user needs, and keep them involved
  2. Understand what’s out there first
  3. Build the right team
  4. Take small steps and learn as you go
  5. Build digital services, not websites
  6. Be inclusive
  7. Think about privacy and security
  8. Build for sustainability
  9. Collaborate and build partnerships
  10. Be open


Building skills for building chatbots

Our events team wanted to build a Chatbot as part of the fundraising raising events acquisition journey.

They used the bot society simulator to design the flows and had intended to pay an agency to build the bot. Instead, I spent a couple of hours with one of the team to teach her the basics of building a Chatbot. She picked it up really quickly and built most of the bot in the first day.

Things I learned:
Digital transformation requires giving people the opportunities and space to develop new digital skills. This is more productive and efficient in the long run as it reduces reliance on external (and often costly) resources.

About using bot simulators specifically, beware of falling into the trap of thinking of the Chatbot as a visual interface like a webpage. Chatbots are conversational interfaces and need to be designed more as a two-way interaction then the kind of one-way passive interactions we usually have with screens.

Building something like a Chatbot yourself means you have a greater understanding of how it works, which will be a big help in iterating and improving the bot, puts the organisation in greater control of this and future Chatbots, and gives the team member another skill to go on their CV.

Disruption eventually gets disrupted and consumed by the establishment

Uber is held up as an example of of how to disrupt an entire industry, in this case the taxi industry. But sooner or later disruptive ways of doing things butt horns with the establishment. Industries like taxis are regulated by the government, the government makes the laws, and the government doesn’t like it when those laws aren’t adhered to. That’s when companies like Uber find their ‘disruptive’ ways such as not considering their drivers employees challenged and disrupted by the establishment, which decides that those drivers are employees. In this way the establishment takes away any disruptive advantage, and eventually consumes the disrupted into the mainstream of the industry.

The government’s own digital team proved this when they looked at ways to disrupt and digitise the process of buying road tax. They were faced by a law that prevented what they wanted to do. Of course, the solution was to change the law, which they did, but something disruptive companies can’t do.

Crypto-currency, the application of block-chain technology to financial transactions, will go through the same cycle. It’s still too new a technology to have developed a useful application, but it will. And when a disruptive company comes along that can commercialise that application successfully they will be eventually be faced with a government that says ‘play by the rules or don’t play at all’. This is the cycle of innovation in regulated industries. It starts with the birth of the technology, then the application of the tech to disrupt an industry, then the legal challenge by the establishment, and finally the disbandment or consumption of the industry.

Highlights from “A CEO guide for avoiding the ten traps that derail digital transformations” by McKinsey

Highlights from A CEO guide for avoiding the ten traps that derail digital transformations by McKinsey

“… companies need to take more risk, not less. Many senior executives look back on their transformation programs1 and wish they’d been bolder. In today’s environment, making incremental changes is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.”

“Many companies have adopted a “let a hundred flowers bloom” philosophy that encourages broad experimentation. Such an approach generates excitement and learning, but it can also be self-defeating if not carefully managed. Running too many competing initiatives dissipates management focus and starves promising ideas of the resources they need for a successful scale-up.”

“Focusing on the right kind of initiatives is equally important. Too often, businesses pour resources into programs that yield short-term gains but can’t be scaled, aren’t sustainable, and don’t add value. To avoid this wasted energy, any digital transformation should start with understanding customer needs and build out solutions that not only address them but have the potential to generate the most impact.”

“Evaluating the customer decision journey is a good place to start… the joining and onboarding processes for new customers often offer plenty of opportunities for significant improvement.”

“Agility and speed are second nature to a digital organization, but energy can turn to chaos if it isn’t channeled purposefully. Leaders need to be systematic about identifying and capturing business value, which begins with creating transparency into, and useful metrics to track, the progress of digital initiatives.”

“Organizations that embrace learning typically develop inexpensive prototypes, test them with customers, and repeatedly refine them until they reach a minimum viable product (MVP). They seek feedback on new features from small groups of customers through simple surveys or by gauging their responses to specific elements such as the wording or layout of a web page.”

“However quickly you think you are going, chances are it isn’t fast enough. Speed is of the essence when it comes to reacting to market changes and capturing revenue opportunities before competitors do.”

“The most effective businesses ingrain speed by making agile a way of life. They use short development cycles to address specific needs, try out rough-and-ready fixes repeatedly with customers, and produce “good enough” solutions. In marketing, for example, agile organizations12 can test multiple new ideas and run hundreds of campaigns simultaneously and get ideas into the field in days rather than weeks or months.”

Agile Digital and Ecommerce teams at the BHF

The BHF Digital Teams, like many digital teams, take Agile approaches in their work.

The Digital team uses Scrum with Product Managers writing user stories from other parts of the organisation and taking them to the Development team for prioritisation and planning. The Dev team consists of front end and back end developers, business analysts, and testers. They estimate the size of the tasks and work in two week sprints to complete the tasks. Using Scrum means that once the tasks are prioritised for that sprint they don’t change it. This works well for software development as it’s repeatable work that benefits from a timeboxed approach to deliver value.

The Ecommerce team uses Kanban. We aren’t specialists like the Dev team and our work often involves a broad range of work, including customer service, logistics, developing merchandise, marketing campaigns and products, as well as website development. We accept that with priorities changing rapidly and with what work we can undertake being dependent on others, attempting to plan with any degree of certainty or timebox our work isn’t going to be an effective. We maintain a high-level roadmap that shows what we expect to be working on over the next few months, and we have a very low-level tasks list that we refer to and update daily. This works well for ecommerce projects as the priorities change quickly and often.

Digital Team using Scrum
Ecommerce Team using Kanban
Cross-functional team of specialists, including Product Managers, Developers, Testers, Business Analysts, UX.
Single functional team of generalist who cover Platform Development, Customer Services, Logistics, Marketing.
Daily stand-up meetings to estimate, prioritise and assign work.
Weekly planning meetings to prioritise projects for the next few days.
Works in fortnightly sprints to complete predefined tasks.
Works in continuous flow with priorities changing daily.
Uses a ‘push’ system with work forecasted weeks ahead by the Product Managers and Developers.
Uses a ‘pull’ system with demand from the business and/or customers deciding what work is focused on this week.
Kanban isn’t better than Scrum, or Scrum better than Kanban, each works for the team that applies it in the right way for them.

Turkey Dash – Innovative digital fundraising

The Turkey Dash, by PayPal, is a digital fundraising initiative in support of eight charities.

Turkey Dash

The campaign encourages members of the public to choose a charity to donate to, with the more donations a charity gets the faster their turkey will run in the race.

It’s a really innovative and interesting way to gamify and make fun donating to charity at Christmas time, especially with traditional campaigns relying on messages of suffering to motivate donors. 


Copyright © 2019 Roger Swannell

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