Having just been asked to join the board of small charity after a short voluntary stint providing marketing support, Mike Hudson puts forward his case (and a call to action) for the new generation of trustees – the young, digital volunteers who can make a difference on ageing boards and who can make a real difference for charities going through their digital transformation projects.
The realisation that diverse boards are important to charities’ success has been around for a good while; the concept of engaging younger supporters and bringing them in as trustees has also been acknowledged for many years. More recently, there has been a focus on digital transformation in civil society and the benefits that being digitally-capable can provide to charities. Combine these three schools of thought and you’ve got the young, digital trustee – simple!
Many people already understand the benefits of having a diverse board of trustees. Having a board of trustees with a diverse range of backgrounds, knowledge and skills can provide the numerous benefits: new ideas, perspectives and experience; new methods of communication and engagement with service-users, supporters and donors; new processes, operations and increased efficiencies; and it’s certainly worth noting that research has revealed that more diverse teams tend to be more effective at the tasks or activities that they undertake (see: https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/diversity-work-group-performance and https://hbr.org/2016/11/why-diverse-teams-are-smarter).
You’re convinced? Great, I thought you might be.
Right. Young trustees. This is as obvious as diversity and, really, is just an extension of the need for diverse boards. A diverse board should include a range of ages. But what are the benefits? Young trustees won’t bring with them a lifetime of experience. They won’t have board-level skills. They might not be well-rounded leaders. They won’t possess the same skillset as the industry-standard 60-year-old white man. This. Is. Good.
Young trustees bring with them their opinions (the opinions of under-30s have been known to differ from the older generations…); their drive, willingness to learn and desire to progress (trusteeship is a great opportunity that can help develop careers and demonstrate skills and growth to future employers); an understanding of social causes and action, and more; and a fresh perspective on the problems that your organisation may face.
I’m glad we can agree that young trustees have their benefits too.
I’m not even going to try and convince you of the importance or benefits of ‘digital’ and digital skills. The one comment I will make – and I’m not trying to put you down: if you work in the charity sector and you’ve not read stories, case studies, research and opinion about the importance of digital adoption and digital transformation then you might want to spend some time catching up. Digital is here. It’s important. Charities should be evaluating how they can use digital technology to benefit their organisations, service-users and donors.
The next bit is simple. And I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this… If you’re looking for a diverse board and you’re looking for digital skills to drive your transformation and adoption of technology, then a young and digitally-savvy person may be the answer! You may already have one lurking in your volunteer ranks; you may have to go to your local voluntary action or to Do-It.org to find one or to a local university, but the important thing is that you do what you can to have a diverse and technological-adept board.
A quick interjection: whilst a young, digital trustee can be a great solution for a charity looking to diversify their board and bring in a digital skillset, it isn’t necessary to kill those two birds with the one stone. Digital skills are not exclusive to the youth and any digitally-capable trustee – or a trustee willing and able to learn – will be of benefit to your board. Equally, a younger trustee without a digital background can still be a great addition to your team.
So, there you have it: the young and digital trustee. There are so many benefits to recruiting a digital trustee, so the still-relatively-low numbers of young, digitally-savvy trustees is a worry. There have been improvements, without doubt. Many organisations and groups have sprung up to support this type of recruitment and to promote the role the younger, dynamic, digital trustee can play, but more can be done and it’s simple: charities should actively recruit and candidates should actively seek out opportunities.
To those keen to get involved with a charity, you can find volunteering and trustee information at Do-It.org or your local voluntary action – which is how I was introduced to the charity with which I now work. If you meet the criteria, why not check out NCS as well.