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Digital Transformation: Building the charity you want, on purpose

Jo Wren

An interview with Steve Fuller (The House) and Nathan Baranowski (OJO Solutions)


Nathan Baranowski, Managing Director at OJO Solutions, and Steve Fuller, Co-Founder of The House, discussed the importance of understanding and developing your digital purpose, alongside delegates at the 2019 Charity Technology Conference in London.

In today’s third sector environmentthere is a sizeable appetite to embrace technological change in order to deliver greater impact. The latest Charity Digital Skills Report found that 67 per cent of not-for-profits want to use technology to positively boost services; these forward-thinking organisations recognise the need to work more effectively and efficiently in order to future-proof.  

But technology is an enabler; it’s no magic wand. In an era of ever-changing, seemingly never-ending transformation, it can be all too tempting to focus solely on technological solutions, rather than asking the bigger question: how do people, processes, cultures and technological capabilities shape and create successful digital charities that are grounded in purpose? 

Nathan Baranowski, Managing Director at OJO Solutions, and Steve FullerCo-Founder of The House, discussed the importance of understanding and developing your digital purpose, alongside delegates at the 2019 Charity Technology Conference in London.  

Q: Why is purpose important when thinking about digital transformation? 

Nathan Baranowski: I’ve been working in the not-for-profit sector for close to two decades now, and what I’ve learnt during this time is that most charities are very similar when it comes to digital. The prevalent themes are that the majority of charities wish to be more effective, efficient, deliver greater impact and attract more donors.  How they achieve this, and what success looks like, differs. But one consistent aspect of my work supporting charities – small and large – to digitally transform, is the need to first understand a charity’s purpose in order to deliver impact through digital. Too often there is a conflict and disconnect between strategic, charitable objectives and the desire to make a tangible difference in the world.  

Steve Fuller:  Purpose lies at the heart of all positive organisational change – and a clear purpose is essential to drive any charity into the future. An organisations’ central purpose can often be easily found, hidden in plain sight. It may be in a founder’s speech or in an early mission statement, but over time, these core message can all too often get lost in the day-to-day practicalities of running an organisation. By digging into the original DNA of your charity, it’s possible to identify key aims and project these forwards, redefining these for the present day.  

Q: How do you get to your purpose? 

Steve: A purpose-driven vision should be compelling; describing the world in a way that clearly expresses the impact of this purpose on the world, and creating an inspiring picture of success that all can relate to. Purpose should centre around both what the world needs right now – in terms of positive and progressive change – and what the charity really cares about and is good at. When considering purpose, a highly valuable process for charities to go through is to imagine a world where this ‘purpose’ has been delivered, and to consider what that would look like and what would be different. This process enables the leadership team to develop a future-back strategy with clear, measurable and ‘audacious’ goals, avoiding the pitfalls of a today-forward approach. It’s all too easy to get trapped in the reality of today, which limits thinking and brings an element of fear into the process; but a true, powerful purpose should challenge our ambitions and stretch our imagination.  

Q: Is technology part of our future, or is it all of our futures? 

Nathan: To successfully step forward, it’s important to first place whatever change we are going to make on firm foundations. Technology alone will not solve your problems – it’s here to support, deliver and empower – so the decision to use any new digital solution should be based on sound strategy, otherwise it’s unlikely to be effective in the long run.  

Steve: Too often, it feels like we’re asking technology to solve our problems or meet our ambitions – handing critical thinking over to technology and almost switching our brains off in the process. Technology can only do so muchwe, as individuals and professionals, need to be really clear on what the issue or opportunity is that we need technology to help us with.  

Nathan: Right now, arguably more than at any other point in history, technology is changing the way we think about how we work and deliver services.  Digital, by its very nature, is disruptive, challenging and game-changing, and that’s a great thing.  We all recognise that digital is here to stay – so now we must really question how digital will enable us to live and breathe our purpose. 

Steve: It is only when the purpose (‘the why’) is understood, that you should invite technology into the conversation. Context is everything here, and for me context is defined or shaped by the problems your way was created to tackle. This is ‘the why’, and this clear purpose should always be central to any digital transformation planning.  

Q: What is digital maturity? 

Nathan: Our relationship with technology is deepening and changing daily.  Digital maturity, put simply, is about understanding our relationship with – and use of – digital technology, and being clear on how this supports processes, people and organisations to meet the expectations of stakeholders and customers in an increasingly digital age. Digital maturity and transformation is an ongoing process, but for business and charity leaders, it should be seen as both a key goal and an important investment in the future.  Leaders have a crucial role to play in bringing digital into the consciousness of organisations; digital understanding should be an important goal for all to work towards – not just IT and specialist digital teams – as only once we grasp our current capability can we understand the gap between where we are currently and our desired position. Even with the best technological processes and solutions in place, it’s only by working in a digitally-minded way and with a digitally-curious mindset that true change can be realised.  

Q: How can digital transformation change be mobilised? 

Nathan: As human beings, we are incredibly habitual creatures, and that means change isn’t easy – it can often make us feel fearful or uncertain.  Ultimately, digital transformation is a people-change programme first and foremost, and so it is imperative, from day one, to take everyone on this journey together.  A clear understanding of the direction and purpose of an organisation allows for goals to be translated into a digital roadmap; a set of themes and building blocks to enable change to happen. All within organisations must then be empowered and engaged with the change programme in order to contribute towards and see the results.  

Agile working can be highly advantageous when it comes to mobilising transformation, especially when an organisation’s culture and capability is growing rapidly. Agile working – and breaking down organisations into teams to drive and deliver specific outcomes – means that often positive change can be seen in weeks rather than months. While often perceived as an IT methodology, and perhaps overlooked as such, it’s a proven way to deliver outcomes quickly, explore opportunities and empower teams to make decisions and deliver results over perfect solutions. For charities, agile working and digital transformation is all about making a change today that could make a difference for tomorrow – and positive change is of course the central thread that runs through all charities.


Q: What practical, and immediate steps, can organisations begin to make? 

Steve: A purpose-driven culture is the life blood of any organisation – so first and foremost, identify your purpose and create values which are ‘fit for purpose and aligned to your organisational ambitions. This is where technology can help; we have been using an online values diagnostic tool for many years – valuescentre.com – that analyses the values already in existence within the organisation, allowing for a culture to be built on strong foundations because they are within the team already. The tool also maps the view of the current culture versus the desired culture, and then provides an organisational scorecard to highlight where development is needed. It’s highly recommended.  

Nathan: In terms of other practical steps: make sure you have the right people to lead, with the capacity to bring everyone within the charity on the journey with youEmbrace agile working, breaking down the changes needed to deliver specific outcomes that can make a difference within a week rather than a year. Invest in the digital transformation process on a long-term basis, using specialist support as needed. Above all else, be bold in your goals and sure everyone understands your ‘why’ to ensure there is clear focus across the whole organisation and that everyone is working towards being a force for good.


OJO help organisations deliver greater impact and drive value through technology. To find out more about how OJO and the House can help your organisation please contact us.

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