Zoe Amar: Why all charity boards should have a digital trustee

Digital forms a huge part of the many issues charity trustees need to consider, making it essential these skills are well-represented on your board.

Here’s a good game to play when you are next in the pub: name all the things that you and your friends are now doing differently because of digital. From ordering takeaways via an app to banking on our phones to checking our emails as we walk down the street, digital has changed our expectations of the world and how we behave.

Is it time that we saw a similar shift in how we approach trusteeship? Digital channels are ubiquitous and even someone who thinks they are a novice is likely to be using them in some shape or form every day, even if it is just using Outlook and Word on the office computer.

Digital is likely to affect many of the decisions that charity boards need to make. It’s now part of the bread and butter issues trustees need to consider, from strategy and finance to managing risk and data. And that’s why it’s so vital to have these skills represented on your board.

Without them, opportunities will be missed and risks won’t be identified and managed. Another issue that boards will need to grapple with is the ethics of digital platforms, such as social media companies’ failure to provide safeguarding to young people and worrying stories about data sharing.

Currently, across the sector there is a digital skills gap on boards, with 69% of charities stating that their board’s digital skills are low or have room for improvement. And we need to look at how we can support and guide trustees in developing these skills.

When we worked on The Charity Digital Code of Practice, one of our ultimate aims was to help save trustees’ time by setting out best practice, as a way to help them understand what their charities are doing well and what needs to improve. And if you’re still pondering whether you need a digital trustee, and what the role involves, we’ve worked with Reach Volunteering, SCVO and CAST to produce a handy one page summary of what you should be looking for.

When looking for a digital trustee, I advise charities to search for business as well as digital skills. This doesn’t mean they need to be a captain of industry- they could even be a university student who is entrepreneurial and runs a small digital venture in their spare time. But they do need to have some understanding of strategy, good technical skills and the confidence to grow into a voice of positive challenge in the boardroom.

The glue which holds this all together is that they need to be able to persuade and influence the rest of the board. It’s a good idea to screen for this at the interview. Can they provide examples of where they have gained support from reluctant stakeholders, and encouraged them to change?

Digital is an opportunity for us all to do things differently, and better. It offers potential for boards to develop their skills, meaning that they can develop strategies which help their charities seize these new opportunities, from fundraising to supporting more beneficiaries to managing and growing their reputations. Digital can help even the smallest charity punch above its weight. It’s time that we not only expected more from how we can use these channels, but also challenged our boards to provide stronger leadership and guidance in digital.

Zoe Amar is director of marketing and digital consultancy, Zoe Amar Digital

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