The top 10 barriers to increasing digital and tech capacity on charity boards

People around table with laptops

Despite constant reminders of the importance of “going digital”… charities are still struggling to put this into practice

In summer 2014, the ALS ice bucket challenge went viral across social media. Over the course of a couple of months it raised over $115 million for the American ALS Association and substantial sums for other similar organisations across the world. It was a triumph for viral marketing and a reminder of just how crucial the use of technology can be to a charity’s success or failure.

And yet, even while charities yearn for their own “ice bucket moment,” plenty of them still struggle to use YouTube effectively. Charity boards don’t necessarily understand the difference between Facebook and Instagram, let alone platform-based marketing and software-as-a-service. Despite constant reminders of the importance of “going digital” – essential to innovation and systemic change – charities are still struggling to put this into practice.

A real understanding of Technology, Social Media, Campaigning and CoCreation is the in-demand skill needed to help create and support the charities of tomorrow, today. But organisations are struggling to find and retain trustees who can bring those skills to effective governance. The failure to value or develop these skills in trustees will lead to underinvestment in the digital futures of today’s charities. And in today’s volatile social sector climate, a lack of digital future-proofing is something few can afford.

However, between Silicon Roundabout, Brixton Hub and the Square Mile, London is bursting with the technology and digital skills needed to equip and support the charities of the future. Not just in terms of supplying products and services but also in training up a new generation of advisors, trustees and leaders. And with technology hubs growing up around the UK, it’s not just London either.

The problem therefore seems not to be one of supply or demand, but of the interaction between the sectors. Charities don’t know how best to take advantage of the talent out there, while tech and digital leaders also seem at a loss with respect to how to help or get involved with voluntary organisations at a governance level.

The following top 10 barriers were highlighted through our discussions at GetWired.

Cultural barriers

1. Cultural fit and mindset

Combining tech/digital workers with governance of any sort can be a bit like mixing oil and water.

2. Receptiveness to change

With the best will in the world, charities can be suspicious of radical change and reluctant to buy into new methods of working.

3. Process and speed

Tensions can arise from the contrast between the “normal” speeds of operations and strategy on the one hand and tech/digital innovation on the other.

4. Rigid processes and bureaucracy

On the whole, tech/digital workers are turned off by heavily structured processes and bureaucratic meetings.

5. Assumptive behaviour

There exists a mostly unfounded perception among tech/digital workers that charities are old, failing dinosaurs and that technology will save them.

Communication barriers

6. Understanding of roles

Charities tend to lump all tech/digital skills together, failing to appreciate the diversity of the skills involved. Conversely, tech/digital workers often lack awareness of the trustee role and confuse it with consultancy or operational roles.

7. Awareness of potential

There is still a general lack of awareness
among charities of the importance and potential impact of recruiting
trustees with modern skills and sought after experience.

8. Resources for recruitment

With charity funds so limited, there is often the temptation to underinvest in recruiting trustees from “new” sectors such as tech/digital.

9. Access to opportunities

It’s far from obvious how to search effectively for trustee opportunities or how to find tech/digital workers willing to be trustees.

10. Setting expectations

Charities often fail to set out what they look for in terms of effectiveness and impact, which means that prospective trustees generally don’t know what they are coming into or what is expected of them.

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