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Top tips for trustees who want to go digital

By Zoe Amar

If you want your board to tackle digital more effectively then you are not alone.

Earlier this year we asked charities what they thought of the digital skills of their boards for The Charity Digital Skills Report. Most charities (68%) rated their board’s digital skills as low or having room for improvement. So there is clearly a substantial digital skills gap on boards, yet 77% of people we spoke to either didn’t know what was being done to improve this or believed that their charity didn’t have any plans.

That’s the reality, and I suspect that the charity sector isn’t the only one facing this challenge. The government’s latest research indicates that digital skills are at a premium, with 82% of advertised openings requiring some level of digital skills, and employers indicating that one third of vacancies are difficult to fill due to a lack of appropriate digital skills amongst applicants. Boards need to look at this issue from two angles, asking themselves difficult questions about whether they have the right mix of skills on their staff team - and around the boardroom table.

As someone who spends much of their day job working with senior leaders, I think this is tough challenge, but it is manageable. Here’s how boards can tackle it.

Define the problem

I often find that boards and executive teams aren’t speaking the same language, even if they want the same thing. The first step is to get key stakeholders from the staff team and amongst the trustees in a room and to have a frank discussion about where your organisation is at with digital.

What’s going well?

What needs to improve?

How can we work together more effectively to make it happen?

Define the role the board are going to play

Trustees can add huge value by providing the strategy, scrutiny and support to ensure that their organisation is getting great results from digital. To do this their level of involvement needs to be appropriate and add value.

Do you have a digitally savvy trustee who could be a good sounding board on what the staff team are trying to do?

How could you train the board up to make informed decisions about digital?

Our guide with Reach Volunteering, SCVO and CAST can help you understand what trustees need to do about digital.

Map your skills

Understanding what digital skills the board have is a great way to get the conversation going and to find out where people may need more support with building their confidence and experience. You could make this part of a board skills audit or even run a simple survey for trustees. Once you’ve done this, plan how to give trustees more support.

Do they need to go on a course?

Or could a younger, tech savvy member of staff mentor them?

Horizon scan

The best way to make an informed decision is to understand the context. As someone who has been a trustee for more than 11 years I want to know about what other, similar organisations are doing about digital, and the opportunities and threats affecting the sector as well as the charity. I think it’s fair to ask for this information if you don’t have it. I’d also recommend keeping an eye on tech trends e.g. by reading the tech news in The Guardian.

Talk to organisations who are one step ahead

If you’ve spotted a charity who are using digital in the way that your organisation/charity would like to, you could ask to meet one of their trustees for a coffee, or even suggest that they present at your board meeting. This is a great way to get your trustees excited to learn about digital.

Check if your systems are working for you

As a trustee you don’t need to know the ins and outs of the charity’s website and CRM. But you do need to know about any major risks that might be brewing behind the scenes.

Have the executive mapped their systems, how they work together, and discussed what they’d do if something went wrong?

Take a look at the principle on risk in The Charity Digital Code of Practice for more guidance.

Thrashing out an approach to digital around the board table can feel like a big task. But in the fast moving, volatile age that we’re in, with rapid technological change, it’s the key to good decision making.

For more digital guidance for trustees take a look at The Charity Digital Code of Practice

Zoe Amar is director at social enterprise and digital agency Zoe Amar Digital.

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