A version of this article was first published in bvsc Update Dec 2015-Jan 2016 as the second in a series of three articles on the role of digital technology and data in the transformation of the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector (VCSE) in Birmingham and beyond; article links updated for accuracy Nov 2018
In this article we will concentrate on the strategic processes which are needed to help us in the VCSE sector to begin the transformation which will benefit our beneficiaries and our organisations.
Establishing, developing and overseeing strategy is the remit of the board of a charity. Boards need to be supported in identifying the strategy to drive their mission, develop it during the different stages of the organisation and oversee its management by those to whom they delegate that responsibility.
That strategy should include the use and regular review of technology to make the delivery of services and activities more efficient. It should also aim to decrease the time spent on repetitive routine tasks which could be automated.
Our data – owning, showing and sharing
Civil society organisations gather lots of data, usually at the behest of funders. Boards need to appreciate what data the organisation is collecting. They should encourage management to use, share and combine it with other data so the acquired knowledge can be used to make better decisions.
Organisations like the charity DataKind UK works with data scientists (people who examine and analyse data). These data scientists volunteer their time with Datakind to help other charities understand and use their data better. There are also schemes like Pro Bono OR whose members, operational researchers, volunteer to help organisations to make operational improvements using data. A similar organisation, Pro Bono Economics, helps charities understand and improve their impact and value, also using data.
Strategic digital footprint
But strategic digital footprint isn’t only about data. It’s also about raising your digital profile through accessible social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
In RnR Organisation we are constantly encouraging VCS CEOs, Trustees and others working in the sector to be more active online. Using platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook make such activity more accessible and cost effective.
Supporting trustees on social media
Organisations and their management need to explore how they can support trustees to use these digital platforms.
Are trustees on LinkedIn? If they are, are they leveraging their contacts to support the organisation? This includes not just financially but also by opening doors, by creating or supporting partnerships, by communicating about the brilliant work done by the organisation and its staff?
Are trustees in groups that are relevant to the organisation where they could lead or contribute to discussions? Do they reblog posts from the organisation’s website? Do they keep an eye out for opportunities and send them on to the management?
Are trustees on Twitter? If they are, are they retweeting the organisation’s tweets to their contacts, thereby increasing the reach of the organisation? Are they sharing organisational and topical news, making new contacts, raising awareness of the issues faced by the charity’s beneficiaries?
On Facebook, where many voluntary organisations and community groups find a natural home, trustees could be equally active. They can post event photos, spread organisational news amongst their networks, publicly respond to organisation invitations and invite others to get involved.
Facebook is a great place for new people to find out about your organisation, and trustees could be involved in this.
Using technology to develop a framework for a strategic process
And what about the governance meetings themselves? Are they just events where decisions are already made and trustees just go along and sign where they’re told to?
Or are they events where participation, including by those not in the room, is encouraged, including through using social media? Live tweeting VCS meetings is not very common, but the public sector live streams some of its meetings so our sector must consider this as an option. It can help us recruit new members, volunteers and trustees who are growing up in an age where this is the norm.
How many boards use video conferencing such as Zoom, Skype or Google Meet Hangouts to enable people to participate in everything, maybe excepting the most sensitive matters?