Digital trustee - is it for me?

By Maddie Stark on 29th Oct 2019

This June, I was lucky enough to be opening speaker at the Third Sector Lab Digital Trustees Scotland event held in Glasgow and funded by the National Lottery Community Fund.  The event brought together senior leaders from the voluntary sector with people working in the digital and tech sector: software engineers, security experts, developers, data analysts and more!

Working in the voluntary sector for over 20 years I know that digital is no longer a ‘nice to have’ – it’s a necessity. If we want our services to be fit for purpose, using digital can really help us to provide the services that people want and need.

At the very least, digital should be on the agenda at board level and cyber risks on the risk register.

For over four years we at SCVO along with Ross McCulloch have been working hard supporting our senior leaders (as part of the SCVO senior leader programme) in understanding the need for and value of having a digital board member. 

Both research and our experience of delivering the senior leader programme tells us that without senior leader buy in, at CEO and at board level, introducing digital will not work.

Sally Dyson, along with her peers, has produced an infographic to help charities think about what it is they want and it asks two initial key questions;

  • As a service, do you have a specific project in mind that you need support with? If the answer is yes, that’s not a board member-, that’s a staff member. (If you’re not sure where to start, there is an excellent group of digital experts working across Scotland, willing to give their time for free that can help – the digital for good group.)
  • Do you want someone;
  • who is interested in the long term future of your organisation
  • willing to engage in the overarching direction and strategy
  • who can ask tricky and challenging questions; and 
  • who can help other board members understand digital?

You want long term strategic support- that’s a board member. 

Using digital may mean investment in the short term, and that might be money or time or both. In the long term however, we can free up staff to do more of the work they were employed to do and that they want to do. If introducing a new digital HR system means staff spend less time figuring out their annual leave, they have more time to deliver support. Digital can increase capacity and reach of any service.

Could you be a digital trustee? 

It had never occurred to me that I could be a digital trustee on a charity board. I had thought about being a regular trustee but didn’t think I had the skills to be a digital one. In December last year Ross hosted the first Digital Trustee Scotland event and suggested to me that it might be a good idea if I was one.

I was asked if I wanted to help drive and support digital on the agenda at board level and whether I see digital as everyone’s responsibility from board level down. My answer to both questions was yes! I joined the board of Mindspace earlier this year and since then have been supporting them with the new strategy. Here are my top tips for anyone who might be thinking about becoming one: 

  • As a digital trustee, I’m there to champion digital. Not at all costs, but when it will save staff time, allowing them to get on and do the work they are employed to do. 
  • Be honest about the time you can give.  The stage a service is at on its digital journey can impact on the time they will need from you. Using digital is all about change management- more time investment is needed at the start.
  • We at SCVO have employer supported volunteering and I was able to attend an all-day board and staff away day – it helps if you can do this every so often!
  • Go visit the organisation you’re interested in. Is it right for you? Meet the CEO and other board members.
  • Be prepared to challenge and ask the tricky questions.
  • It’s not all going to be about digital – some board meetings can be about the blocked loos, the hole in the roof and wayward members of staff.

If this is something that piques your interest, or you’d like to hear more about what Digital Trustees can do, we've got 3 tickets to give away to the sold-outDigital Trustees Scotlandevent on November 5th! You will hear from digital professionals about their trustee journey and charities sharing their experiences of having a digital expert on their board. There will be an opportunity to discuss the role of digital trustees during a Q&A, plus they'll be signposting you to a range of useful resources. The first 3 people to email will be able to attend, so be quick off the mark...

Ross McCulloch, who organises the event runs more over the year, so you can attend on another occasion if you're unlucky this time - watch this space! You can also check out partner organisations giving away some free tickets on Twitter.