1st October 2019

Understanding digital maturity in membership organisations

Simon Wakeman
Chief Executive Officer

There is a growing realisation among many types of organisation that thriving in the new era of big data and artificial intelligence means more than just upgrading your technology. Rather, it requires widespread change throughout an organisation’s tools, people, capabilities and ways of working to facilitate faster responses to the rapidly evolving needs and expectations of those they serve.

The catch-all term for these necessary changes, spanning both strategic and operational areas of the organisation, is ‘digital transformation’.

What that phrase means to one organisation will likely be different to what it means for another, but broadly speaking, it’s an ongoing process through which an organisation updates its culture, practices, processes and technologies to respond more effectively to change in the wider world. As such, there’s no end point, no final set of criteria to meet which will signal that your digital transformation journey is complete.

Digital transformation in membership organisations

What does digital transformation mean for the typical membership organisation? What goals is it aiming towards with its digital transformation efforts? MemberWise’s Digital Excellence Research Summary Report 2019, which surveyed 350 managers and directors in the sector, found that the most commonly reported strategic goals for membership organisations are:

  • Improving and measuring member engagement;
  • Improving acquisition and retention of members; and
  • Improving member satisfaction.

While operationally, the most oft-cited challenges among membership organisations are:

  • Inadequate integration between membership management system and website;
  • Proliferation of databases and silos of information; and
  • Inability to offer personalised content.

The report is packed with useful stats that outline the prevalent trends among membership organisations. These can help you work out roughly where your organisation stands with respect to the wider marketplace. For example, can you clearly articulate your Member Value Proposition? 90% of organisations think it’s important to have one, but only 59% have an MVP and, of those, less than half have clearly communicated it to members and internally. Are you lagging behind when it comes to offering personalised web content to your members? 78% of organisations agree that members expect personalisation but more than half don’t yet offer it.

Data like this makes the report a useful snapshot, but it doesn’t provide a framework by which you can benchmark and measure your progress towards digital excellence. For that, we have to look outside the sector...

Digital transformation and digital maturity

Winding path

Since the path of digital transformation is long and interminable, it’s important for an organisation on the path to be able to work out how far they’ve progressed and what they need to do to keep improving. Enter the concept of digital maturity. Using a digital maturity model can help you work out where you are on your digital journey and what you need to do next, by benchmarking your organisation’s competency across all the different enablers of digital transformation. What are these enablers? Well, that all depends on who you ask.

There are currently two main avenues for a non-profit organisation to explore when it comes to finding an appropriate digital maturity model: the large consultancies and market research companies like Deloitte and Forrester; and umbrella bodies in the not-for-profit and charity space like NCVO and the Charity Digital Code.

The commercial sector is generally perceived as being better at digital transformation, and change in general, than the not-for-profit and charity sector, and so their digital maturity models could be seen, rightly or wrongly, as being more rigorous. Though there is the danger of getting bogged down in corporate consultancy speak when trying to interpret them. See the recent report from Deloitte, Pivoting to digital maturity, for a suitably opaque treatment of the topic.

The digital maturity models in the not-for-profit and charity sector tend to be tailored for use in non-commercial organisations with complex stakeholder ecosystems, but they do come with doubts about how well thought through they are.

Deloitte Digital Maturity Model

Forrester Digital Maturity Model 5.0

Charity Digital Code of Practice

NCVO Digital Maturity Matrix

● Customer

● Strategy

● Technology

● Operations

● Organisation & Culture

● Culture

● Organisation

● Technology

● Insights

● Leadership

● User Led

● Culture

● Strategy

● Skills

● Managing Risks & Ethics

● Adaptability


● Leadership and strategy

● Expertise and capacity

● Technology

● Service design

● Content

● Communications and campaigns

● Data and insight

● Security and data protection



The important thing to remember is that none of these is the one right way to break down an organisation’s people, assets and activities for assessing digital maturity. Choosing the right framework will be a matter of selecting which best suits the makeup of your organisation, its various stakeholders and its ambitions, and also which will be easiest to communicate across its different functions and levels. And there’s no reason you can’t explore many different models - or even invent your own - before settling on one to use to track your digital maturity over a number of years.

Using digital maturity models to find out where you are on your digital journey

Assessing your organisation’s existing digital maturity helps you coldly assess just how far you have to go to meet your ambitions, and also lays a benchmark against which you can measure your progress over the years ahead. This brings the twin benefits of creating a sense of urgency around your digital transformation efforts - which can be helpful for securing funding and board approval - and of giving you something to celebrate as the organisation makes measurable progress - which can help maintain energy and enthusiasm over what will inevitably be a long-term process.

The NCVO’s Digital Maturity Matrix provides a very comprehensive self-assessment tool which asks you to rate where your organisation is now, and where you want to get to over the period under consideration, against 63 different statements over seven areas. It then outputs your score both as a current and existing percentage and in the form of a radar chart which helpfully shows the maximum score reported by other organisations in each area.

This is a handy resource for sharing throughout an organisation. Unfortunately though, the NCVO tool doesn’t provide anything in the way of recommendations or suggested next steps.

Using digital maturity models to work out what to do next

Forrester’s Digital Maturity Model 5.0 provides the simplest and quickest way to conduct a self-assessment by providing a point score against 28 statements across the four areas of Culture, Organisation, Technology and Insights. The sum of all these scores then places you in one of four different levels:

Level One: Skeptics - organisations which don’t believe that digital disruption matters to them; which resist change; which make minimum use of digital channels and still spend large sums on traditional advertising.

Level Two: Adopters - organisations which are embracing digital slowly. They believe that digital is critical to their competitive strategy but fail to meet their customers’ expectations for speed. Technology projects tend to be one-off projects managed by IT.

Level Three: Collaborators - organisations making significant investment in innovation and marketing technology, in which marketing and digital teams work collaboratively with IT but make poor use of data and analytics, and still focus on individual channels rather than on creating unified customer experiences.

Level Four: Differentiators - organisations which have integrated marketing, insights and customer experience teams to create customer-centric experiences, and which use customer insight to inform strategy, but which haven’t yet systematised their innovation practices so that they consistently apply digital principles to every process.

The model then provides a set of broad recommendations based on which level your self-assessment places you in. These are geared very much towards the commercial sector though and are intended as a trigger for seeking out the help of expensive consultants.

The hard reality is that the steps you need to take next will be very specific to your organisation, the needs of your various stakeholders (including, most importantly, your members), and the people, skills and other resources available to you.

Understanding how to progress your digital maturity requires a careful analysis of many factors, but must begin with establishing a shared vision for the organisation. This vision should be powerful enough to align the interests of leadership and staff at every level to help carry through the initiatives proposed, and be capable of inspiring and engaging your members.

Of course, attempts to establish this shared vision can lead to difficult conversations, with differences of opinion between major stakeholders that are hard to resolve without bringing in disinterested third parties. But if you’re engaging external help to make such critical decisions, it’s important to choose partners that will immerse themselves in the unique characteristics of your organisation, rather than try to implement a cookie-cutter approach.


In the absence of a digital maturity model or benchmarking tool tailored specifically for membership organisations and their common goals and challenges, digital leaders in the sector who want to gauge where they are on their digital journey and what they need to do next must adopt a DIY approach. But since all the models we’ve reviewed include leadership and culture as critical factors, it makes sense to lay the foundations of digital excellence here. Ensuring that your organisation is aligned around a compelling vision of what you offer your community of members and how you intend to deliver it should take precedence over racing to implement the next big thing in technology or management fads.