Digital maturity can help organisations to plot and measure the effectiveness of their digital strategies, through delving into the people, processes and capabilities that underpin digital performance. Tailoring the model to your organisation aligns with strategic goals and priorities and will accelerate progress.

I’m a big fan of digital maturity methodology to support strategy development – here are the reasons why I love it and some ideas on how charities can implement it in their organisations.

What is digital maturity?

Digital maturity is an assessment tool that measures digital strategy effectiveness. The methodology looks beyond performance data and KPIs and instead measures the how; your people, processes, channels, capabilities, skills and ways of working.

There are several definitions of digital maturity and our working definition at William Joseph is:

Reaching digital goals that are linked to organisational goals. A continuous process, including digital channels, content, capabilities, skills and projects. The process is iterative, with reflections at each stage and realistic milestones for each stage of maturity.

A strong digital culture, shared understanding and alignment on cross-organisational goals are fundamental to achieving high digital maturity.

Digital maturity goals are not team or department specific; they are focused on outcomes and the culture, processes and ways of working that need to be in place to achieve high and sustainable digital performance.

The digital maturity process is open, transparent and inclusive; involving different perspectives from across an organisation and building the case for investment (both financial and effort) in people, processes and tools.

Strengthening culture to drive outcomes

Focusing on digital maturity is becoming increasingly prioritised within charities and not-for-profit organisations, with many recognising the link between strong digital culture and high performing teams.

According to the recent Salesforce Nonprofit Trends report, only 12% not-for-profits describe themselves as ‘digitally mature – and these organisations are four times more likely to achieve their mission goals and two times more likely to see operational improvement.

Beyond operational performance, digitally-mature organisations excel culturally. These nonprofits are three-and-a-half times more likely to have highly motivated employees. Employees of digitally mature organisations are also more optimistic about their workplace and report lower levels of burnout.

Salesforce Non profits trend report

Blending qualitative and quantitative measurement

Digital maturity is an effective tool for measuring how a digital strategy is landing; the processes, ways of working and culture that underpin the digital delivery.

A digital maturity approach provides a qualitative read of digital strategy, ways of working and processes. It can then be used alongside digital performance metrics such as website visits and conversions to provide a holistic picture of what an organisation is achieving.

While looking at digital performance data can give you an idea of what is happening and trends over time, digital maturity can provide an answer to ‘why’ they are happening and the internal projects, systems and processes that are driving change. This helps organisations to make choices on what to prioritise and accelerate, and where to invest more and less of their time, energy and budget.

Digital maturity model: a matrix, success statements and levels

Central to a digital maturity model are three core building blocks:

  1. digital maturity categories: 5 to 7 headline focus areas
  2. vision statements for what good looks like for each category
  3. a matrix graph that maps attainment across each category
This digital maturity matrix shows levels 1 to 5 of attainment, with 1 being low and 5 being high (meeting the vision statement of what good looks like for that category). The current maturity is represented by the Now (blue) and the maturity milestones of Next and Future have been plotted, showing the journey and sequencing of projects, processes and culture to enable growth.
A digital maturity spider diagram that shows levels 1–5 of attainment, with 1 being low and 5 being high

Each category has levels 1 to 5, laddering up to the ambitious vision statement (level 5). For example:

  • Category: Digital performance
  • Vision statement: Insight is effectively managed across the organisation and used to make better decisions
  • Level 1 (lowest): Each team has their own performance measures, which are kept within teams and not used to improve collective view of campaign performance
  • Level 5 (highest): There is an agreed measurement framework that allows comparison between different data types, products and teams to enable shared decision making`

Individuals are asked to rate the organisational digital maturity using the categories and levels to build a picture of current assessment. The final score is based on everyone’s perspectives of how digital works in the organisation.

Aligning with organisational goals and priorities

The 2022 Charity Digital Skills report found that 40% charities are prioritising integrating digital into their organisational strategy (11% increase since 2021), yet only 12% charities describe digital as being embedded in everything they do. Starting out this process can be challenging and, in my experience, there can be a ‘stay in your lane’ in some organisations when it comes to digital being cross-organisational. I’ve found the digital maturity approach really helpful to get non-digital teams and senior leaders on-board as it enables everyone to have conversations about how digital impacts and affects their goals.

To get an organisational view of digital maturity, I’ve developed bespoke digital maturity models for the organisations I’ve worked with so that they can track and align their digital progress with wider organisational goals and priorities.

Aligning your digital maturity model with your organisation also means it will be tailored to the strengths or unique challenges your organisation has. Your goals and focus will inform the key digital maturity categories to track and measure.

For example:

  • Organisational goal: To step-change public fundraising
  • Digital focus: Content capabilities and user research
  • Digital maturity categories: Digital content and audience insight
  • Organisational goal: Build on our strong content development processes to get their content seen by the right audiences
  • Digital focus: Integrated marketing and skills development
  • Digital maturity categories: Digital marketing and digital skills

How to use digital maturity

I’ve found the digital maturity process helpful in a range of scenarios and organisation size/stage. Here are some of the ways that the approach can be helpful:

1. At the start

Beginning a digital strategy can be daunting and often there are several drivers and outcomes that you may already want to see realised. Starting with a digital maturity approach to assess your capabilities, processes, channels and ways of working will enable everyone to have the same, shared understanding of where you are now.

As you go through the digital maturity model development, you’ll all be aligned for tracking progress and setting realistic, ambitious goals for your digital maturity.

2. Measuring sustainability of performance

When you’re reaching your digital performance KPIs and nothing appears to be ‘broken’, digital maturity can be a useful tool to dig into what’s behind the numbers. If your KPIs are high but digital maturity is low, that may indicate that digital performance and growth is unsustainable and processes, culture and ways of working need addressing.

3. Creating shared goals

In organisations where digital delivery is dispersed across several teams, digital maturity can provide alignment and shared goals. This gives the individuals that work across several departments with a unified set of principles to drive their everyday decision-making and processes.

4. Senior leadership buy-in

It can be hard for some senior leaders to understand the story behind digital performance stats, let alone how digital processes and ways of working underpin these. Digital maturity is a way to demystify digital, breaking down complexity into easy-to-understand concepts of current maturity and growth. I’ve found the process helpful for engaging with directors, as well as other heads or senior peers. In one organisation, the digital maturity process was also fed into trustee reports too to report back on digital strategy performance.

5. Team morale and engagement

Digital maturity is an inclusive, people-centred process, which is also designed to be depersonalised. We are reviewing maturity levels of the organisation, not the individuals or roles in the digital teams. I’ve involved digital teams in the shaping of the digital maturity categories, facilitation of workshops and creation of the growth goals. Being a part of the journey helps everyone to see how the current maturity is defined and the specific areas of focus that the team and organisation need to prioritise.

6. Sector best practice and benchmarking

Although I’m a strong advocate for a bespoke digital maturity model, I still believe that looking beyond your organisation is critical. As part of the model creation — in particular sense checking the categories and vision statements — I recommend chatting with other digital leaders across the sector to find out what good looks like for them. In some cases, I’ve even been able to share digital maturity models with my peers and discover the game-changing projects and processes that have driven growth in their organisations.

A bit of history on digital maturity and charities

Digital maturity is a concept that was born in the commercial world and has since been adopted by charities and not-for-profits to support strategy creation.

In 2016, Breast Cancer Care (shout out to Jo Kerr and Tom Kluge 😎) launched a digital maturity model to measure their digital vision, which was then made open to the charity sector. NCVO are now responsible for the tool, which is available for free on their website. Their tool uses the Charity Digital Code and follows the Co-Op definition of digital.