This article was authored by NPC’s Director of Development, Tris Lumley for the building boards for a digital age campaign.
It’s great to see an increasing focus within charity governance on what’s needed from a board in today’s (and tomorrow’s) ever more digital world. Recruiting trustees with real experience of digital in other sectors is a great start, and will certainly help a charity navigate the huge opportunities and challenges that digital presents.
But just getting some digital experience on your board is only the start.
If charities really want to embrace the potential of digital transformation, they have some big questions to grapple with, going to the heart of their governance and their mission.
In Tech for common good, NPC’s first report on digital transformation in the charity sector, we started to lay out the enormity of the challenge (and the opportunity). As we’ve already seen in the private sector, digital technology upends existing business models, disrupts entire industries, and redefines relationships between businesses and their customers, suppliers, and competitors. It’s incredibly exciting to think about the potential for social purpose organisations to radically redefine how they operate with digital technology infused into their strategies, operations, communications and engagement with service users. It’s also more than a little terrifying for most boards to even start to go here.
When Tom Loosemore, ex-Deputy Director of GDS (the Government Digital Service) spoke at NPC’s recent annual conference NPC Ignites, he made it very clear what’s required to succeed in a digital world, and to develop effective digital products and services. Rather than the traditional strategic planning process (write strategy, develop detailed requirements, build something, deploy to users, etc.) good tech development totally upends this process. It starts with really getting to understand users’ requirements, and then quickly prototyping something. Testing it out with users then means much more than asking them whether it works for them —it’s about observing their behaviour in detail. Then learning from that testing, and iterating the solution. This process, often referred to as agile development, is the key to all the successes of GDS. Build, test, learn, iterate.
So what relevance does that have to charities’ governance?
It’s incredibly important to recognise that this approach is almost the antithesis of charities’ traditional governance models, and to their fundraising and operations. Boards like to develop strategies slowly, through strategic planning processes that often take many months, and ultimately result in weighty tomes that feel like they are written in stone. These strategies then filter into fundraising and operations from the top-down, resulting in funding applications and programme designs that are pretty rigid and long-term. Grant-makers are asked to support three year programmes based on a set approach, and promised reporting against fixed milestones. The strategy sets the design principles that everything else is built on.
That’s all overseen by a governance model based on the rhythm of quarterly meetings. Tick, tock, steady as she goes.
What Tom Loosemore really drove home in his speech is that top-down strategy doesn’t cut it.
In his words, strategy is delivery. Understand users, build, test and iterate rapidly.
While many charities are starting to wake up to the huge potential of digital technology, I don’t think many have yet begun to confront just how much they need to change to harness it. Fundraising will have to adapt to putting the user at the centre, and being open about not knowing yet how a charity’s products and services will meet their needs. And governance will have to adapt to providing strategic oversight of an organisation that’s rapidly changing, flexing, and to adapt the startup world’s jargon, even pivoting entirely.
GDS did this by being established outside of the silos and bureaucracy of departmental structures. Whether, and how charities will take on the flexibility they’ll need to succeed in a digital world is far from clear.
This article was authored by Director of Policy and Communications at the Charity Commission, Sarah Atkinson for the building boards for a digital age campaign.
Nowadays, more than ever, digital is at the centre of our everyday lives. As a result, charities need to have the skills and confidence to navigate and exploit technology for their organisation. That’s one of the reasons why we are supporting building boards for a digital age, a collaborative campaign to increase digital expertise on charity boards.
The benefits that technology can bring to charities are wide-ranging; they include the chance to reach a greater audience, to engage more reciprocally with supporters, and to increase operational efficiency. There are also risks that come with digital, from cyber fraud to data protection breaches. Having trustees with digital expertise on a board means that charities will be in a good position to exploit these benefits for their charity, but also to mitigate the risks, and be better prepared to manage any problems quickly and effectively. Digital can also support strong governance if trustees are able to use technology to access information and make quick decisions, increase insight into their charity’s activities, and ensure that when trustees delegate, they are using technology to clarify what the charity’s policies and procedures are.
If you have a digital background and are thinking of joining a charity board, there are huge benefits to taking on such a vital role.
Trusteeship is an excellent way to get involved in your community and help a cause that matters to you. It introduces you to new experiences and people, and allows you to develop new skills, stretch yourself and apply your knowledge to real, fresh challenges. What’s more, spearheading the use of new technology amongst trustees to ensure your organisation makes the greatest difference possible will be extremely rewarding.
Of course not all charities are lucky enough to have a trustee board with strong digital expertise. With the support of Grant Thornton and Zoe Amar Communications, the Charity Commission recently launched a new resource, 12 questions about digital for trustees, to highlight the issues that boards should consider when approaching digital.
Across 12 wider areas where digital could have an impact – such as strategy, culture, and service delivery – we’ve looked at the key questions trustees should ask as a starting point to navigate the digital opportunities and risks in that area.
For example, when it comes to using digital to build your brand, do you have a website that is easy to navigate and optimised for all devices?
Are you considering the digital trends when it comes to fundraising, such as the rise of crowdfunding?
We hope that boards that don’t yet have a trustee with digital expertise can use this tool to start a conversation and to increase their collective understanding of digital. We also hope that digital trustees, those with a deeper familiarity with and appetite for technology, can use it to evaluate where on a digital journey their charity is, and where there are gaps or opportunities, to ensure the sector isn’t left behind as we move to an increasingly digital future.
Sarah was appointed Director of Policy and Communications at the Charity Commission in October 2014. She is a board member of the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years and a member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations Professional Practices Panel.
I’ve been spending the last few months working with Scottish charity chief executives and senior staff on the OneDigital action learning programme. It’s one of the most exciting pieces of work I’ve ever been involved in.
Many of the charities participating are taking a fresh look at the fundamentals of how they work. Their starting point is service users and supporters, not digital tools. They’re making simple changes to transform the way their staff work, and allowing them to get excited and empowered about the vital work they deliver.
All of this work is propelled forward by the broader OneDigital programme and the Scottish Government’s digital strategy. However, having worked with these charity leaders over the last few months it’s clear that we need radical change if the sector is ever going to truly embrace digital.
Effective leadership needs to be the starting point. The charities taking part in our action learning sets have embraced change because they’ve got passionate, effective leaders. Senior leaders and trustees can no longer rely on junior staff to make key strategic decisions about digital. It’s not just about social media, it’s not just about the server that sits in your cupboard and it’s not just about your fundraising database. This is about looking at what you do with a fresh pair of eyes, experimenting and empowering staff and service users – it needs to be about real culture change. It’s about seeing the transformational potential of digital service delivery.
For many organisations all of this leads to one fundamental question: is your chief executive or chair ready to fundamentally reassess how you do things in light of the potential offered by digital?
Charities need a new relationship with technology. Let’s end the age of the giant IT infrastructure system and aim to get to the point where IT becomes invisible.
We need to ensure all decisions we make are based upon effective use of data. We need to be geared up to spot societal trends. It’s vital that we respond quickly to the needs of our communities and we need to be able to truly measure the impact we have.
We need to move away from seeing data as a tool to win and report on funding, it’s about delivering the best services we can, when and where people need them.
Funding is going to be key to all of this. That doesn’t necessarily mean more tech-focused niche funding streams. In fact it would be much more productive if funders simply encouraged more people to make digital-first grant applications to mainstream funding streams. That’s probably going to mean training grants officers to assess projects where digital is key, and we need more funders challenging charities to think about where digital can improve outcomes.
Alongside the OneDigital team, I’m currently working on a charity senior leaders’ digital call to action. This will be a blueprint for change, shaped by those taking part in the action learning programme. Hopefully this will kick-start a wider conversation about the need for effective leadership, culture change, flexible technology, smarter funding, and collaborative data. Less strategy, more doing.
Ross McCulloch is the founder of Be Good Be Social training and events, as well as Director of Third Sector Lab – a digital media agency working exclusively with charities, housing associations and social enterprises. He has worked with a wide range of clients, including Relationships Scotland, SCVO, Oxfam Scotland, Enable Scotland and Breakthrough Breast Cancer. Ross also sits on Foundation Scotland’s Impact and Innovation Committee and is Chair of Comic Relief’s Community Cash Glasgow funding panel.
This article was authored by Zoe Amar for the building boards for a digital age campaign.
Many charities have a growing awareness of the importance of digital, even if they are at the early stages of adoption. However, if your charity feels that the board isn’t aware of the burning need to use digital more strategically, they are not alone.
McKinsey’s 2015 digital study found that nearly half of the respondents’ CEOs sponsored digital initiatives (rising from 23 percent in 2012), with CEOs often seen as leading the digital agenda. In contrast, boards are far behind: just 17 per cent of respondent boards sponsored digital initiatives. Yet owning digital at board level is vital for sustainability and growth. The same study found that 35 per cent of boards at high performing organisations sponsored digital programmes.
The fact is that organisational and digital strategy are merging into one and if your board hasn’t considered the opportunities and risks that digital represents to your charity then it will be at a significant disadvantage.
Just look at Cancer Research UK and its involvement in the #nomakeupselfie campaign. If their board not been aware of the massive potential of fundraising on social media then their digital team would not have been empowered to seize the opportunity when it arose.
As a result, the charity went on to raise £8m in six days. Boards therefore need to identify the skills and knowledge gaps at trustee level so they are well positioned to adopt digital as part of their long term strategy. Ultimately, they must also be able to move swiftly to seize the golden chances offered by digital as well as able to manage risks. Here is our advice on how to ensure you have the right skills on your board to do all of the above.
For this to be effective you will need to talk frankly to your executive team about how they think digital could help your charity achieve its strategy. This doesn’t mean that digital should be a bolt on. Go back to your corporate objectives- even when they are not ostensibly relevant to going online- and discuss how digital could help achieve all of them. You’ll also need the context on where charities working in the same space are using digital, and how this fits into wider trends.
If you need support with a discrete, hands on project, e.g. a new customer relationship management (CRM) system, then you might be more effectively supported by getting help from a consultant or someone who can commit to a piece of labour intensive pro bono work. Some charities even have digital advisory boards but you must ensure that this doesn’t keep digital in a silo at trustee level. It is also vital to consider what stage your charity is at with digital. For example, if you are about to embark on digital transformation ideally you should recruit a trustee with some experience of this.
Whether you use an agency or simply advertise, think carefully about what you want from your digital trustee, and take the time to find the right person. Two areas which are often overlooked are: does this person have the gravitas and management or leadership experience to amplify their digital skills? And do they have the ability to influence and take people with them as the charity adapts to digital as a new way of working?
Obviously you should be doing these regularly, but do you include digital skills in this? In my experience as a trustee, generally skills audits can be very broad, assessing experience, understanding and development needs in a big picture way. Digital is now huge, and its remit includes everything from communications to fundraising to back office functions. One easy way to solve this problem is to undertake a stand alone digital skills audit for boards, with a follow up session to talk through results. Ultimately, chairs need to take responsibility for the learning and development needs of individual trustees in this area.
In my experience, many charities attempt to solve a problem like digital by hiring a digital trustee. But the day that the successful candidate walks into their first board meeting is just the beginning of the journey, not the end. As with any new role, the other trustees and the charity will need to change and involve the digital trustee actively in that. As part of this, boards should look at how they can adapt to the speed at which decisions must be made in the digital age.
Boards should also have an in-depth conversation about what level of risk they are comfortable with (Deloitte Digital recently published findings which showed that digitally mature organisations have a higher appetite for risk). They must ask themselves how they can make the most of the digital trustee’s expertise whilst ensuring they don’t overstep the mark by becoming too operational. And, as digital done right involves major change management, they must agree how they can support the trustee and executive through the challenges such a process will involve.
As you can see, there is much that boards need to consider when looking at how to make digital part of their strategy and ensuring that the right skills are represented at board level. By following the advice above you’ll be able to get your charity off on the right foot with digital and help it get great results.
Zoe Amar is one of the sector’s leading experts on digital. She heads up digital agency Zoe Amar Communications. Zoe also has eight years’ experience as a trustee and sits on the board of The Foundation for Training and Education in Care, as well as on the board audit and risk sub committee at The Samaritans as their digital expert.
This article was first posted on the Institute of Fundraising blog on 16 August 2016.
Never has there been a more important moment for fundraisers to consider becoming a trustee. The Institute of Fundraising’s own recent research has highlighted the vital need for fundraising expertise on Boards. And we at Reach Volunteering know of many charities looking for this expertise.
Joining a Board might be about making that mental leap from hands on fundraiser to a different kind of leadership and governance. Does it seem daunting? Do you have time?
Our experience of recruiting skills-based volunteers shows us some of the best qualified candidates hesitate when faced with the idea of a completely new context. Don’t. Your expertise and experience in the charity sector will be hugely valuable to another charity. There are also plenty of support and resources out there. Trustee roles do vary in terms of time commitment, but you can choose the kind of opportunity and organisation that’s right for you.
As a trustee, you will see first-hand how decisions are made at Board Level and put your growing leadership and governance skills to good use. You will undoubtedly bring back learning and knowledge to your day job that will support your career progression in the long term. What better way to demonstrate that you have the skills for promotion?
This is a chance to share with others your talent for raising funds. If you’ve had a career break or are considering a new direction, this might also be the perfect way to put your skills to work.
There’s probably no need to tell fundraisers about the value of supporting a charity – you do that every day! But it is worth saying that skills-based volunteering like trusteeship is making a difference to charities across the country right now.
Volunteers are supporting a range of local, national and international causes in health & wellbeing, the arts, the environment, to name a few. This is also a great way to support a cause in your local community, and one of the many small to medium charities that make up the majority of our sector.
So, where do you find a role? Reach Volunteering is the single biggest source of trustees for the voluntary sector in the UK. First, you need three or more year’s experience to register with us. And you do need to register. Don’t be discouraged by the questions – it won’t take long and we find that going through the process means we make better matches. We placed 506 volunteers in 309 charities last year alone – so it does work.
We estimate that the total value of the skills transferred to the sector by our volunteers was £7.3m last year – you could make that figure even higher and build your career at the same time.
What are you waiting for?
Trustees’ Week is a chance to celebrate and recognise the valuable work that trustees’ do. We want to highlight some of the people who want to help change our society through volunteering their skills in a trustee position.
With the introduction of our new online service you can – for the first time – search and view the skills of the people who want to contribute their time and expertise! This is huge benefit for charities as they can see the real people behind their CV’s and contact them directly.
Charly Young is a one of these potential volunteers signed up on our service and looking to be a trustee. We spoke to Charly about why she wants a position on a board:
Why did you sign up?
As the Director of a quickly-growing charity, I feel I am in the enviable position of both having a lot to offer and having a lot to learn! In 3 years we have grown The Girls’ Network from a small charity working with just 30 girls, to now provide more than 600 girls from low-income communities across the South East with a personal mentor for the year.
I am very excited both by the opportunity to share what we have learnt with others, but also to broaden my experience working with and learning from a charity in another sector or placing different challenges.
What sort of skills do you have to offer a charity?
From finance and fundraising bids to running workshops, volunteer management to writing policies, starting a new charity means you end up learning a lot about a lot very quickly!
As a former teacher, I know the way the education sector operates well, and now head up the Strategy and Expansion of The Girls’ Network. This ranges from creating target operating models and KPIs, to creating partnerships and fundraising.
We also manage more than 600 volunteers and run training for women and girls throughout the year, so I am skilled in development engagement strategies and addressing risk and quality assurance.
What sort of voluntary position are you looking for?
I am looking for a Trustee position in a charity where I can use my broad range of skills in directing a charity in a different capacity. I could be most hands-on if this were based in London (and I know from experience that good ‘hands-on’ Trustees are invaluable!).
My background is in education, so any charity in this space would fit comfortably into the networks I am part of, however I would be equally excited to share my knowledge and experience of growing a charity and planning strategy with an organisation in an entirely different sector, too.
Thanks to Charly for speaking to us about her background and what she is looking for. You can see her profile and get in contact with Charly directly via the website.
We are excited to launch our annual review for 2014/15!
It’s been a jam-packed year where we have grown upon our success from previous years: we’ve seen demand from charities grow particularly in the trustee recruitment sphere, new partnerships were developed and a record number of matches made.
Many of our matches this year were trustees, in part due to our Matching service which in November 2013 was made free for charities with a turnover of under £1 million.
Here are some of the year’s highlights:
We are now looking forward to an even better year ahead as we await the launch of our new digital platform.
You may have seen in previous blogs (you can read more here and here) that we have been developing a innovative digital platform which will make it easier for charities and volunteers to find each other and put the power to search and connect in their hands.
We have been developing the new site throughout 2014 and we are pleased to say that we are on the home stretch so we look forward to delivering this to you soon.
You can download our 2014/2015 annual review on our website.
I hope you enjoy it!
The Commission on the Voluntary Sector and Ageing issued its final report, Decision Time last week.
Within two decades, one in four of us will be over 65 and the report points out that this should be seen as an opportunity rather than a problem. Huge numbers of over 65s already volunteer and the report calculates that if people hitting 65 keep donating their time, expertise and experience at the same rate as today’s older population, it’ll be worth the equivalent of billions of pounds to the sector over the next 20 years.
However the report found that many parts of the voluntary sector are not currently ready to grasp this prize with some seeing elderly people more in terms of a looming social care crisis than an invaluable resource. Or they view older volunteers as an army of little old ladies, fulfilling basic tasks but not to be engaged at a more detailed, substantive level.
To counter this the report says there is need for more skilled volunteer roles and consultancy-style internships which will be attractive to people looking for new opportunities to use the store of professional knowledge and experience they have built up over long careers.
This is very much where we at Reach come in. For 35 years we have been providing skilled professional volunteers to a wide range of charities of all types and size and in every part of the UK. We look forward to continuing this work for the years ahead helping to meet the challenges and opportunities for the voluntary sector set out in the report.
Janet Thorne, Reach’s CEO contributed to the work of the Commission as a member of one of its Discussion Groups:
“For us, older people are a huge asset: they offer an abundance of valuable expertise to charities. Older people have breadth of experience, highly developed skills and seasoned judgement; crucially this is accompanied by more stable lifestyles and more time to give. Almost 40% of our database is made up of older volunteers – and they are almost twice as likely to take up an assignment as younger people, and to stay in the assignment for longer.
We support the findings of the report – especially that charities will need to create interesting and creative opportunities to volunteer if they want to truly harness the potential of this important group. In our experience, charities vary widely in how effective they are at engaging volunteers. Some are poor at recognising the value that volunteers bring whilst others fully appreciate the contribution of their volunteers, and therefore make the most of their skills. Indeed, over 90% of our volunteers are pleased with their placements.”
The research from the report suggests that new generations of over-65s are unlikely to accept the negative stereotypes of life over 70 (think of some charity posters showing lonely and isolated older people) so readily.
Charities and the voluntary sector should be at the forefront of discussing later life as a success story, retraining and recruiting older workers. Decision Time also identifies some important changes from outside the voluntary sector that could help. The Treasury could think about helping individual donors give away their cash as annuity pots are drawn down, for example, and the cabinet office could consider whether reference to “need because of age” in the Charities Act is helpful.
But the voluntary sector must lead the way. There is work to be done.
Having taken a long career break to raise two (now) gangly and gifted teenagers, last year I decided to widen my horizons.
After responding to an advert on Timewise via the Women Like Us website, I headed to ‘Charity Towers’ on London’s Albert Embankment with great enthusiasm and ready to get stuck into the ‘business world’ again.
This stretch of the riverside houses the headquarters of the British Intelligence Headquarters (also known as MI6) and provides a compelling view of the River Thames. The area is also home to several charities – including Reach Volunteering.
Research has shown that those who volunteer benefit from a greater sense of happiness and satisfaction. I find something oddly rewarding about putting my past experience to good use without expecting financial or professional gain.
I suppose that volunteering helps create a sense of cohesion in a society where all too often people are driven by capitalist motives. Volunteering, particularly skilled volunteering, is geared towards those who have professional skills whether currently in or out of work, but of course it looks good on your CV too.
Volunteering attracts people with a wide range of skills, all of whom have some time to give. An older experienced individual may fit volunteering around work or into their lifestyle. A younger person may simply be filling in the gaps between jobs, or there are others who are simply passionate about a cause and want to give back to society.
You tailor your volunteering work to suit your schedule so you do not feel swamped (it is important to avoid this!) or suffer the burnout that many with paid jobs may experience. In fact, some larger companies have actively started encouraging volunteering, giving their employees time off to use their skills to help their communities at large.
There are other benefits to volunteering, too. Research has shown that even when you have hung up your work boots or are experiencing a career break or developing a business idea, volunteering can help give an additional sense of purpose and help fight against anxiety and depression.
Like charity work, your focus switches onto others rather than yourself. When you know that a fledgling organisation rather than a large corporation relies on your skills and expertise, you are more likely to make it into work even if you’re not feeling eighty percent. It’s like an unspoken contract.
I have enjoyed coming back into the workplace, engaging with a team which consists of writers, marketing and HR professionals, a Fleet Street editor and reporter all working towards a shared altruistic purpose and using a different part of one’s brain other than the part reserved for a different kind of problem solving. When I worked as a financial journalist, the third sector was viewed with suspicion and often as an irritant. It’s given me a useful insight into the third sector and renewed skills which I hope to use going forward.
If you want to get back into work have you ever considered voluntary work as a stepping stone? It helps with confidence, develops your networks and gives you an opportunity to explore different avenues.
Visit the Reach website to find out which of our voluntary opportunities might suit you. A charity themselves, Reach Volunteering’s large and committed team of skilled volunteers supports a small paid staff of only 7, providing a core service nationally in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and regionally throughout England.
Who says Reach doesn’t practice what it preaches?
If you want to find out more about getting back into work after a career break, on the Women Like Us website there are a few suggestions of how to help women find work. The organisation also runs courses for women who may have been out of the job market for a while to raise children and now feel work ready.
Posted in Articles
You may be aware that we celebrated our 35th birthday recently and I have been digging into the archive to see what past resources we have created for volunteers. We have produced a number of publications since we launched in 1979. You can see one of our many publications above (from our non-digital days!)
Searching through these, I realised, as well as the number of resources we’ve produced over the years, that there are a number of tangible things you can do to make the most of any volunteering opportunity. I wanted to highlight some of these points so here’s a whistle-stop tour of some of the DOs and DON’Ts of skilled volunteering.
More than ever before, charities are desperate for skilled volunteers. In these tough economic times, their budgets have been cut and at the same time they have been asked to provide additional services to help those in need. Skilled volunteers can fill the gap here.
And why do skilled volunteers want to get involved? Our volunteers register with us for many reasons; some are retired or on career breaks, others are working full or part time. Some volunteer to build their CV and career, others to give back to their communities. We have skilled volunteers from across the UK, many working to help in their own communities. Volunteering can be hugely rewarding and your skills will mean that you can make a real difference to an organisation.
If you have experience in professional skills such as management, IT, marketing, accountancy, project management, HR, business or mentoring and want to apply your expertise to a good cause, visit the Reach website.
Volunteer Publicity Officer