5 things I’ve learned from being a digital trustee

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By now you may well have seen the guidance on how charities should be using digital which we’ve written in partnership with the Charity Commission and Grant Thornton. It’s aimed at trustees but as it covers the questions that charity leaders should be asking about key areas such as strategy, governance, fundraising, marketing, cybersecurity, culture, service delivery and more it’s a great tool to open up conversations with colleagues and to get buy-in for using digital more widely across your charity.

In parallel, I was also interested to see that Reach Skills are running a campaign to recruit 200 aspiring digital trustees for the sector. I’ve been a charity trustee for almost 8 years and have been ‘the digital trustee’ on my current and former board. Being a trustee is a brilliant way to apply your skills through having strategic oversight of an organisation, so I hope that many of you are thinking of becoming a trustee, if you are not already. Here are 5 things I’ve learned from being a digital trustee.

  • It’s rewarding. You may well be the only person on your board, or even within the charity, who really gets digital. You can make a huge difference by showing them new ways to fundraise, or rethinking their business model and the way that they communicate. I’d argue that it’s one of the most exciting roles on any board right now- you really get to be a pioneer and use all the experience you’ll have built up in digital. However…
  • It takes patience. In an ideal world you’d rock up to your first board meeting and your fellow trustees would embrace digital with open arms. But if they did that, surely they wouldn’t really need a digital trustee? You’ll have to invest time in educating your board- and maybe even the staff team- on what digital is, how it can help everyone, and what success looks like. And it won’t always be easy as you’re likely to encounter resistance at some point. On the upside it will make your influencing skills even stronger which is also useful for the day job.
  • You need to move fast. Think back to 3 years ago and all the things that have happened in fundraising since then, from #nomakeupselfie to Stephen Sutton to the FPS. The landscape is changing quickly and part of your role as a digital trustee will be to help your board understand this, showing them how to deal with opportunities and risks. You can influence the way your board thinks and works by picking up the pace.
  • You can help your board really think stuff through. The brilliant and rewarding thing about being a trustee is that it allows you to take a step back and to use your lateral thinking skills- otherwise, what is the point of the role? This ability is even more important in digital as it cuts across so many areas. You can add a lot of value for example by helping your board review how your digital fundraising proposition is best communicated online, and by challenging in critical areas such as  asking about the aftercare provided to donors recruited via digital campaigns.
  • It’ll be one of the best things you ever did. Yes being a trustee is a massive responsibility. But it’ll make you more confident and savvy in your day to day work. And as digital is growing so rapidly you’ll be able to make a huge difference.

Are you trying to get your board up to speed with digital? Or are you thinking of becoming a digital trustee? We’d love to hear about your experiences.

 

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Zoe is director of Zoe Amar Communications, a marketing and digital communications consultancy who have worked with leading organisations including ActionAid, Crimestoppers, Macmillan and Anglia Ruskin University. She blogs for The Guardian about charities and communications and is on the advisory board for The Guardian Voluntary Sector Network. She co-founded the charity #socialceos awards.