The 5 digital skills to look for in your next trustee
Following the launch of the Charity Digital Code of Practice, chair and digital guru Zoe Amar looks at the non-technical skills around digital that trustees need under their belt.
A key maxim of the Charity Digital Code of Practice is that making the most of digital is not about tools and technical understanding anymore – it’s a governance mindset. Charity leaders need to be confident in how digital can help their charities achieve their goals if they want their organisations to be relevant and sustainable.
We grabbed Zoe Amar, non-profit digital guru and Chair of the Code, who explained the five digital skills that every charity’s trustees and boards should to be able to demonstrate.
1- An understanding of the changes that emerging technology brings
You’ve probably seen the headlines that one in five jobs could be disrupted by automation by 2030. It’s a startling figure and one that all kinds of organisations need to be prepared for, and understand what it will mean for traditional ways of operating.
“Trustees need a good understanding of how emerging technology could disrupt their charity’s business model,” says Amar. “We don’t quite know what this brave new world’s going to look like, but I think an optimistic scenario is that people are released from the burden of doing too much routine work and are actually able to focus on the aspects of the job they’re really passionate about.”
“So what does that mean about the sort of skills that you look for and train people for? Because what we also know about automation is that skills like lateral thinking and emotional intelligence are going to become absolutely paramount as that’s something that is going to be very hard for robots to do.”
2- Data-driven decision making
Handling and analysing data is a significant skills gap in a lot of organisations, according to the latest Charity Digital Skills Report, with 62% of charities rating themselves as fair to low in that area. Could charity trustees take the lead?
“I was talking to someone from a charity at a conference who had just developed a new website and their trustees had got absolutely fixated on one particular idea, assuming that beneficiaries will use the website in this way, but they didn’t have the data to back it up,” says Amar. “So the first thing a charity trustee must ask is the very simple question of ‘am I actually using data to make meaningful decisions?’”
“For example, when I say these things about how our stakeholders behave or what they want or need, can I point to the data which backs that up? Am I using data to stress test my assumptions about people? What’s it telling us and what’s it not telling us? That’s a sign that you’re really starting to think about the value of data to make decisions.”
3- Emotional intelligence to help staff navigate change
Presenting at Blackbaud’s BBCON this year, Amar talked about how the recruitment process is broken, and how everyone from the smallest to the largest charities is struggling to recruit for the right soft skills.
“I don’t think it’s just a question of the paycheck that charities can offer, I think it’s to do with the recruitment model and that we need to be a bit more creative with it,” says Amar.
“I think those soft skills are important whatever organisation you work in,” says Amar. “Are you able to persuade people? Have you got the emotional intelligence to read the room in difficult situations? Are you good at providing that assurance and empathy when people are having to make those very tricky decisions?”
“That might be the kind of thing you can screen for in job interviews. Can they persuade people to do something that they might be very reluctant about? For me that might be ‘can you persuade me to watch Match of the Day in the next two minutes?’ Because I’m not a football fan!”
4 – An understanding of how your audience is changing
One of the biggest challenges for charity leaders in that area is the way in which donor behaviour is really shifting. A recent report from Blackbaud found that traditional ways of donating to causes are starting to change as younger generations embrace different channels and giving patterns.
A lot of charity fundraising is stillis geared around monthly direct debits and sending out direct mail ,” says Amar, “and of course they’re still a big source of income – but data from Charities Aid Foundation’s latest report indicates that people are now much more likely to give ad hoc, infrequent amounts rather than sign up to a monthly form of giving.”
“Charities are having to work really hard just to get people’s attention and perhaps going out using digital to recruit supporters is the first thing to do, rather than focusing on the transaction of someone becoming a donor.”
“Charity leaders need to acknowledge the truth that donors’ behaviour is shifting and then thinking about what that really means for their fundraising and particularly how they can use digital to build those relationships with supporters.”
5 – Thinking out of the box with recruitment
Lastly, Amar asks how HR leaders and those responsible for recruitment can think differently to hire highly-skilled digital professionals.
“One interesting lesson from the private sector is that there is that there is much more of a shift towards organisations focusing on building a really good employer brand,” she says, “so when they go out there with a live vacancy that they’ve already got a warm pipeline of people who are really interested in working there, instead of the traditional route of reinventing the wheel every time there’s a role to be filled.”
“And an underrated and cost-effective source is always the networks of your staff. That’s something that people do but usually it’s more of an afterthought. Think about who in your organisation might have a great network and then be a bit strategic about it. It’s a bit like the change we’ve seen in fundraising – there’s a shift away from campaign to campaign to focus on building a community of people who support and are passionate about what you do.”