Being a trustee in the digital age

By Sally Dyson on 10th Nov 2016

Scotland is a digital nation. Eight in ten households have an internet connection. Four in ten have a tablet computer. And six in ten people use a smartphone.

Life is enhanced for those who have the access, motivation and skills to get things done online. The internet helps us keep in touch, learn new things, save money, find work and stay healthy.

The same is true for charities and small businesses. Organisations that embrace digital opportunities grow faster, innovate more and are better at meeting the needs of their clients and customers.

it’s hard to see how charities can survive if they don’t adapt

Recent statistics, however, show that we still have a long way to go, as 49% of charities lack capability.

Why is this important?

Digitally mature charities are 28% more likely to see an increase in funding. Consider too that the number of charities accepting online donations has more than doubled since 2015.

I hate to say it but it’s hard to see how charities can survive if they don’t adapt.

We need to recognise the role of digital in everything we do, from supporting beneficiaries through to governance. Everyone has a responsibility to play their part, and none more so than trustees.

The challenge ahead can seem daunting. But it doesn’t have to be.

Start by being curious - explore possibilities, listen to your supporters and learn fast. Look at other sectors to see how successful organisations have listened, experimented, failed and learned, then consider following a similar way of doing things.

There's a huge amount of information out there, which can be daunting. But don't worry, as SCVO has a whole heap of resources to help.

One of the regular comments I hear from organisations is how difficult it is to recruit new trustees. People are time poor, so committing to regular meetings can be a significant blocker.

How empowering would it be if you were able to say ‘that’s not a problem because we hold virtual meetings once or twice a year.’ Products such as Skype, Facetime, Hangouts (and others) make that possible for free. They can widen your reach, cuts costs and make communication more regular. The only thing you have to do is check and, if necessary, adjust your constitution to make this possible.

If you're not sure about digital possibilities, then consider recruiting someone to your board who's really interested in the potential of the internet. This person doesn’t have to know how to set up a computer with their eyes shut, they just need to be aware of how digital can be done well more generally.

While the organisational buck stops with trustees, curiosity mustn't. Encourage senior staff to weave a digital strategy into everything they do. No area of operation is too small to be considered.

Ask whether everyone in your team has up-to-date digital skills. Are they still focused on being proficient with the Microsoft Office suite, or has this been broadened to include the latest productivity tools, such as Slack, Trello, Canva, Whatsapp, Twitter or Facebook.

Consider whether everyone really has to be office based. While it may be important to get everyone together regularly, does it have to happen every time? Think about where the most productive place is for the team to work from. Then ask if they have the right kit to do the job?

And there you are. It’s really not all that bad, is it? You might even say it’s quite exciting!

Next, I have one more suggestion. Well, it’s more of a request actually. At SCVO we recently launched our call to action to create a digitally confident third sector in Scotland. Now that you’re ready to embrace the possibilities of digital, please join us in making that call.