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| Posted by: Jessica Stockford

Inspiring digital leadership – what’s the Board got to do with it?

Every year Prospectus is inspired by the stories of outstanding governance showcased by the Charity Governance Awards. To gain a further insight into one of the award categories, Embracing Digital, Prospectus spoke with two digital leaders within the beyond profit sector, Rachel Neaman, Former Chair of Digital Leaders & one of the Judges at this year’s Awards and Jo Kerr, Digital Transformation Consultant & Trustee of Turn2us.

Delving into Digital

Much of the progress that we see within society today happens in a digital context. Technology and the digital tools available to society has changed much of our everyday lives, including how we communicate with one another and access services as citizens and consumers. Rachel Neaman notes that ‘Digital is important for so many things, important for the economy, for politics, in social issues, for our democracy. Digital is central to how we are going to continue as a society.’

Digital has great potential; the potential to be a negative influence upon society by acting as an exclusionary force on those who lack the skills or means to access digital - typically society’s most vulnerable. However, digital also has the potential to be a force for good, as an essential part of a values-led approach to making society better for everyone.

Digital in civil society

Within the beyond profit sector there is a major governance learning curve when it comes to digital vision and confidence. The Charity Digital Skills Report 2018 shows that the majority of charities believe their board’s digital skills to be low or having room for improvement, with 69% of charities surveyed agreeing with this statement.

Part of the task when it comes to charities embracing digital is for them to have a better understanding of what digital is and what the benefits of harnessing digital tools and techniques are. As Rachel notes ‘Digital is much broader than IT, it is about the human interface with technology. What can technology do to improve the human experience whether that’s the customer, the beneficiary, the consumer, the employee – whoever.’

Jo Kerr spoke of two key ways in which digital can be useful for an organisation. Firstly, digital can be an enabler of an organisation’s existing strategy. Using digital tools, techniques and ways of working can increase efficiencies, increase income generation and help charities support more people. Secondly, an organisation that is embracing digital has the ability to harness opportunities that exist now and in the future. Digital provides the opportunity to embrace completely new ways of working and engaging with beneficiaries and supporters.

Last year’s winner of the Charity Governance Awards ‘Embracing Digital’ category, Bliss, is a great example of how a ‘digital first’ strategy can transform the way a charity engages with its beneficiaries and supporters. You can read their story here.

So what is the role of the Board?

Trustees are responsible for setting a culture where staff feel able to try new things and explore new opportunities. Rachel notes ‘the role of the Board is absolutely key in embracing digital. It is wonderful when staff can be really empowered and enabled through digital and ideas can come from the bottom up.’ In helping to foster a culture of innovation the board can ensure their organisation is embracing any opportunities that present themselves – ‘Because staff are often working very closely with beneficiaries and supporters and are particularly well placed to capture the needs of those people that the organisation is there to support’.

The Report shows that people within the sector seem to hold similar opinions to those highlighted above. 46% of charities surveyed stated that they feel ‘our culture needs to change’ when it comes to digital, with 33% of charities surveyed stating a lack of buy-in from Trustees a barrier to their organisation embracing digital opportunities.

How boards can do better on digital

Five top tips to help boards demonstrate digital leadership:

If you want to read more about how organisations are embracing digital and ‘raising the bar’ in charity governance, click here to see all the winners and stories from this years’ Charity Governance Awards. Including, the winner of the ‘Embracing Digital’ category, Parents and Children Together (PACT).