Written by Seb Baird and Rosie Tressler OBE
Rosie is the CEO of Student Minds.
Seb is a digital and product specialist in the charity sector, and provided digital strategy support for Student Space, Student Minds’ programme of support for students through the coronavirus pandemic.
Our digital story so far
Rosie: Student Minds is a relatively new charity, formed just over ten years ago. Like a lot of small charities, we’ve developed our technology on a shoestring: relying on free platforms, discounts for nonprofits and pro bono consultancy from bigger companies.
This helped us to establish and maintain a core website and CRM at low cost. But we also found that our approach to digital was sometimes driven by short-term priorities, rather than a long-term strategic direction.
Like a lot of charities, we were also pushed to explore more digital service delivery through the pandemic. Our training team, for example, which delivers mental health training for university staff, had to pivot entirely to online training methods. We also spun up Student Space, a programme of support for students through the pandemic, to be delivered mostly online.
Even as the pandemic moves to a more predictable phase, though, it’s clear that digital services and content will be a continuing priority for us. Because of this, it made sense to take stock of our digital position and think more critically about the direction we should be heading.
Seb: I started the audit by going through the NCVO digital maturity matrix with the Student Minds Management Team. Filling out the matrix helped to unearth the assumptions and priorities that the leaders of the charity held around digital.
This exercise gave me greater clarity in the next stage of the audit. I interviewed ten members of the staff team, across comms, design, training, operations, and programmes, asking questions on topics including:
Combining the insights gained from the interviews with my own analysis of the charity’s digital position, I was able to present a picture back to the organisation of the current challenges, and where to go from here.
What we’ll be focusing on
Seb: Four main priorities emerged from our research.
1. Strengthen and consolidate our web platforms
Student Minds has several web properties. The research suggested that new properties were created based on short-term priorities and funded projects, in part because the core website had limited functionality to accommodate emerging needs.
The number of web properties makes it harder for the team to manage content and development. It also has an impact on user experience: users of the secondary sites may not know that they’re interacting with Student Minds, and they miss opportunities to campaign, donate, or engage in some other way.
Investing in the core Student Minds website will help to ease the pressure to create new ones. It will also allow the charity to take a longer view on which of the additional websites should continue to sit independently, and which can, in time, be integrated back into the core website.
Building and consolidating will also have positive consequences for the other areas of focus. A stronger core web platform will open up opportunities for integration with a CRM, for example, and a smaller digital estate will make it easier to manage the organisation’s content in the long run.
2. Invest time and money in CRM development
The research showed that there’s work to be done to harness the data that the organisation holds. Building capacity in the CRM will help staff to work more efficiently, and manage relationships more effectively. It will also lay the groundwork for a better communications experience, helping to serve audiences with the right messages at the right time.
Here’s how we’ll work towards a more effective CRM:
Student Minds is firmly in the content business: across the properties, they have published hundreds of pieces of content, ranging from students’ personal stories to advice content written by clinicians. Lots of this content is high quality, performing well in user testing and according to web analytics.
However, the process of creation isn’t always consistent. The organisation needs an over-arching content strategy across its properties, and it needs an approach so that governance receives as much energy and attention as creation.
Approaching content more strategically will help us to reach more people with the content that they need, and build our reputation as a trusted source of advice and information around student mental health and wellbeing.
4. Embed digital values
As we embark on this work, the priorities might shift and change with the organisation - that’s to be expected. But we should also be prepared to embrace digital ways of working to ensure that we don’t lose our way in this journey.
The values we identified are:
Why we’re hiring a digital lead
Rosie: Doing this work will likely be a long journey, and we recognise that, if we want to make progress, we’ll need skills and expertise that we don’t currently have. So we’re excited to hire a Digital Lead for the first time, to oversee and develop this area of work.
We’re looking for someone who has experience managing digital products in a non-profit or similar environment. More importantly, we’re looking for someone with the right qualities: someone who can see the big picture, someone with a willingness to learn new platforms, and someone who can support colleagues to embrace digital approaches. We also want someone who will help make sure our digital products are accessible to everyone, in line with our commitment to anti-racism.
We recognise that the scope of this role might seem daunting, but we are committed to supporting the right candidate to succeed in the post through training and mentoring. If you don’t meet all the criteria for the role, but are excited about the work it entails, we encourage you to apply.
Read the full job description here.