“During times of crisis and uncertainty, leaders need to make decisions quickly, even when information is incomplete. We must also embrace the mindset of continual learning because we have to be adaptive to the ever-changing challenges.”
This leadership advice comes from Ursula Dolton, chief technology officer at the British Heart Foundation (BHF). The charity funds research into heart and circulatory disease. It also supports the 7.4 million people living with these conditions in the UK.
Under her guidance, the charity navigated the many challenges brought about by the coronavirus outbreak. This included dealing with a rapid drop in income with the cancellation of many fundraising events and the temporary closure of the charity’s 750 high street shops. Like so many organisations, a combination of strong leadership and technology was key to its successful response.
In a matter of weeks, Dolton’s team:
- Enabled remote working for employees.
- Increased digital fundraising.
- Improved online service delivery for patients and families.
“It’s been tough, but it’s brought about even stronger alignment between the business and IT. It’s also pushed us to be creative in how we can better approach activities like fundraising with digital,” she says.
Innovation at a charity can never be for innovation’s sake.
“I’m constantly under pressure to make sure that we deliver innovation. We’re not short of ideas. We have hundreds of ideas because BHF is full of people who are absolutely passionate about everything they do,” Dolton explains. “But every penny we spend counts. I have to make sure innovation efforts help achieve our mission and provide true value.”
Dolton is excited about mapping and managing customer journeys to better support fundraising activity.
“We want our donors to have a consistent, positive experience and ensure they’ll continue to come back,” she says. “From a tech perspective, the challenge is all around data collection, analysis and insights. The other challenge we face—along with other charities—is attracting people with the right skills without being able to offer a financial package equivalent to commercial companies.”
When Dolton joined the BHF three years ago, she had a team of 20 people in the technology function.
“Leading BHF through digital transformation was relatively easy. Technology is in my DNA. I really had to focus on the cultural side of change, motivating people to do the work we needed them to do, and getting everyone to understand that these changes were the right thing for the business. I’d say that the success of big digital transformation projects is 80% cultural.”
Today, she leads around 200 people from backend IT to frontend digital and from information security to the change team.
“What I’m proud of is that BHF as an organization truly understands the value of tech,” she explains. “Everyone came together to create one technology department. We’re delivering digitally-enabled end-to-end change across the organization. I really can’t ask for more.”