How digital success can start with the trustee board

Vimal Patel, Founder and Commercial Director at FARM Digital, addresses the question of why trustees are still not taking full advantage of digital – and what charities need to be doing about it.

Guest Writer | 15th Nov 18
Image of people in suits looking at a tablet.

Vimal Patel is the Founder and Commercial Director at FARM Digital. With more than 20 years’ experience accelerating digital transformation in the charity sector, Vimal works with charities to develop their digital strategy and cutting-edge web applications. Vimal’s priority is to encourage positive change by embracing the opportunities that digital provides.

Trustees’ Week (12-16 November) is the perfect moment to reflect on the fantastic work that trustees do in the charity sector. However, it is also an opportunity to highlight the challenges that charities and trustees face.

Trustees play a vital role in charity development and often hold notable power in the overall strategy and direction of a charity. The estimated time value of trustee input per year is £3.5 billion, with trustees offering their advice and services on a voluntary basis, could trustees’ time be used to greater effect?

Similarly, with significant influence sitting with trustees, charities should be confident their board is both familiar and open to future trends. For example, whilst many trustees understand the importance of digital capabilities in the charity sector, evidence suggests the sector could be using modern technology to a much greater advantage.


Why is the charity sector lacking in digital expertise?

Statistics revealed by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations show that digitally mature charities are 28% more likely to see an increase in funding. So why is the charity sector lacking in technology expertise and knowledge compared to other sectors?


“One of the underlying reasons could be the demographic of charity trustees. A report published by the Charity Commission showed that the average age of a trustee was 61 and that 64%  were male.”


Arguably, the average age makes sense, given that over-60s generally have more time to embark on voluntary activity.

However, the problem is this age category is, in most cases, less digitally savvy compared to younger generations. People over 60 were raised in an era where households did not have computers let alone advanced technology such as Amazon Alexa. That is not to say over-60s are categorically technology novices; Bill Gates is 62!


Online fundraising is increasing

In 2017, donations through websites, social media and apps accounted for £26 in every £100 donated in the UK. The trend for online giving is rising, meaning that there is an increasingly greater importance on digital solutions within the charity sector.


“The gap in digital capacity in trustee boards has been recognised for some time, with initiatives such as GetWired launching to try to tackle the issue.”


GetWired involved a brainstorming opportunity for charities of all sizes to discuss the issues that they were facing with digital entrepreneurs and experts. The focus of the conference was to explore the question: ‘How can we increase digital capacity and leadership in trustee boards?’


Tackling the barriers to digital progression

From the discussions, some clearly defined barriers emerged: cultural fit, receptiveness to change, process and speed, rigid processes/bureaucracy and assumptive behaviour. Problems regarding communication were also identified as major barriers including the understanding of roles, recruitment resources and the access to opportunities.

There are various ways these barriers can be tackled regardless of the size of your charity, your budget or your current digital presence. For example, charities with higher turnovers could look to professional digital consultancy to audit their current strategy and recommend ways in which to automate processes, adopt new technologies and create a 1 – 5-year strategy.


“All charities should look to introduce variety to their boards; technology experts in particular. Often, this not only brings a breath of fresh air to the board, but it can also be cost effective way of gaining digital advice.”


A simple way to expedite the integration of digital processes is to improve the digital skills within the charity, through induction programmes and training with digital components. This can benefit both staff and trustees and can be used as a method of instilling the benefits of a move to digital.

The Charity Digital Skills Report 2018 added more evidence to concerns around digital, showing that 31% of charities do ‘use digital’ but there is no strategy around how it is used. Digital solutions that are not being used to their optimal capabilities is a waste of resources and can contribute to the negative perception of digital on boards.


How to get digital support

There are plenty of resources available to help bridge the trustee digital gap, from websites such as the Small Charities Coalition , to bringing in external charity digital consultation. Smaller charities can benefit from a range of digital training tools and services that are provided on a pro-bono basis.


“Digital consultancies can also be used to educate charities’ boards by presenting the benefits of digital transformation and proposing changes to strategy.”


Another handy source of information is provided by the Charity Commission: Making digital work: 12 questions for trustees to consider. The guidance should enable you to consider how digitally mature your charity is and decide whether external help is required.

With more donors willing to engage with new technology, charities must have adequate digital infrastructures to support the shift to digital giving. It is time to explore how digital solutions could transform your charity and it begins with selling it to the board!


What are some ways to get your trustees switched on to digital? Let us know in the comment section below or Tweet us at @CharityDigiNews



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