Why COVID-19 could help charity boards go digital

Published on
June 4, 2020
in
Perspectives
Zoe Amar
We've developed a new checklist to help trustees and leaders to make informed decisions about digital during COVID-19 - and beyond.

Before coronavirus hit, the boardroom felt like the last corner of charities untouched by digital change. Only last year the Charity Digital Skills Report found that most charities (68%) rated their board’s digital skills as low or having room for improvement - a figure which hasn’t changed much in the last three years. It will be interesting to see what this year’s report finds, and we’ll be working closely with Catalyst on this. 

Ahead of that, we at The Charity Digital Code of Practice and Catalyst wanted to find out how things had changed for boards with digital since the crisis began. With many charities pivoting from face to face to online service delivery, growing digital fundraising and working with remote teams, boards have had to make swift decisions about digital as never before. So we decided to go behind the door of the boardroom and ask trustees how they’d found this period of change. 

We were also interested to talk to boards because they, like everyone, need support as they tackle digital. Boards are full of smart, experienced professionals but given the digital skills gap highlighted above, some will need guidance to help them make informed decisions about digital. There’s a huge amount of good ‘how to’ content out there now to help charities - how many articles have we all read about effective remote working? This needs to be complemented by digital resources for trustees and leaders. Yet there’s little out there for these groups. 

That’s why the Code and Catalyst have worked together to develop a checklist to help trustees and leaders to make informed decisions about digital during COVID-19 and plan for their charity’s future. As part of our user research with trustees we asked them to share their ideas about what worked and didn’t work on the checklist, and then fed this back into the new version, which we are sharing here today. We will be developing the checklist further as the crisis unfolds, in line with what charities tell us about how their needs are changing, 

Here’s what we learned from talking to trustees:

  • Boards are tackling digital ways of working. Just as staff are working remotely, so trustees are figuring out how to have effective board meetings on Zoom. Many of the trustees we spoke to had given this a lot of thought, organising online meetings so that information overload is managed and everyone feels involved. Meeting more frequently, single issue sessions if a big decision is to be made, and chairs having one to one catch ups with board members ahead of board meetings can help trustees work effectively. 

Remember that ways of working will be a work in progress during the pandemic. I would love to see boards taking 10 minutes at the end of every Zoom meeting to ask themselves if the session has worked for them, and how they can fine tune things to make them even better. Perhaps this will be the start of boards going agile? 

Read this guide to remote meetings from CAST

  • The pandemic could be an opportunity to improve diversity. The trustees we spoke to were excited about how remote working could open up boards to a much wider group of people. Suddenly geographical location and whether your boss will let you have time off to attend meetings are less of an issue. As a BAME woman I was really heartened to hear this.  However I also think that boards will need to market themselves to show how they are willing to embrace change and that they will be a welcoming, inclusive environment for people with different backgrounds and perspectives. 

Find out how to increase board diversity in this guide from NCVO’s KnowHow

  • Boards are starting to think ahead. The new normal, whatever that is, is still a long way off. Yet the trustees we spoke to were beginning to think about how digital could take them there. Some were energised by the momentum and wanted to keep that going. Others were asking what blend of digital and face to face support their charities may offer in the future. With so much in flux though, how will your charity transition when the road to recovery is revealed? There may be staff who can’t wait to get back to the office, and others who’ve found that working from home means they are more productive. Trustees, and charities, will need to flex to accommodate these different situations and preferences so that no-one is left behind. 

Read Mckinsey’s advice on future planning 

Take a look at our trustees and leaders’ COVID-19 digital checklist here