Baroness Barker: A ‘digital trustee’ is just as important as a treasurer

Every charity needs a digital trustee on its board, in the same way it needs a treasurer, Baroness Barker has said.

Speaking at the Charity Times Annual Conference last week, the Lords spokesperson for the voluntary sector said: “Just as a good board has a treasurer, it should also have a good digital trustee, who’s responsible for insuring everybody in the board understands what is happening.”

Barker, who has worked as a member of the select committee on the future of charities, drew reference to the Digital Skills Report, stating: “If you haven’t read it, then I suggest you do, because all charities are going to have to deal with digitisation of some, if not all of, what they do. And it’s difficult.”

“Charities have a deficit when it comes, in particular, to the skills of digital governance. You might know what you’re doing digitally, but I don’t necessarily think your boards do,” Barker added.

“The future is going to be digital and [as a result] charities need a ‘digital trustee’.”

Commenting on her comments, The Good Exchange COO Ed Gairdner said: “As Baroness Barker noted in her speech, while charities’ staff may have a good level of digital understanding, more often than not their board of trustees lack this know-how and could be inadvertently holding back their organisation from the fully embracing the benefits of digital.

“A 2017 report from the Office for Civil Society and the Charity Commission found that charities’ boards were not reflective of the communities they serve, with male trustees outnumbering women two to one, while the vast majority (92%) were white and above average income and education level. It also found most trustees to be older (on average between 55-64 years of age) with the majority retirees (51%).

“The lack of overall diversity of charities’ boards is not a new issue, but it is clearly one that presents significant challenges when it comes to charities innovating and embracing new technologies. The third sector is operating several years behind the commercial sector when it comes to digital, which is something that must be urgently addressed.

“Technology is here to simplify and improve processes, enable essential collaboration and level the playing field by allowing smaller charities and good causes to reach new audiences. It is time for those managing charitable funding to stop procrastinating and using lack of knowledge as an excuse, and instead embrace all that the digital era has to offer.”

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