Kirsty Marrins: Could you be a digital trustee?

Although digital is being put firmly on the agenda, charities still need more digital trustees on their boards

Kirsty Marrins
Kirsty Marrins

I attended my last board meeting as a trustee of the Small Charities Coalition last night.

After serving five years on the board, my second term came to an end and I sadly had to step down. As it’s Trustees Week, I wanted to share my experience of being a young, digital trustee in the hope that I can inspire my peers to consider offering their time, skills and experience to a charity (preferably small!) to help charities, and the sector, become more digital.

In this year’s Charity Digital Skills report, the majority of charities (69 per cent) cited their boards' digital skills as low or having room for improvement. Today saw the launch of the Charity Digital Code, which the SMC was involved in shaping so that it was fit for purpose for small charities, which make up 97 per cent of the sector.

I feel as though digital is being put firmly on the agenda, but charities need digital trustees on their boards. I’m making it my mission to inspire you to become a digital trustee.

If you’re considering a role as a digital trustee, here are my top tips.

Choose your charity wisely

Make a list of charities or causes that truly mean something to you, because being a trustee is far more than just attending board meetings four times a year. Charities need, and deserve, trustees who are passionate and committed and who will be strong advocates for them outside meetings.

Once you’ve narrowed down your list, go on to their websites and see if they’re recruiting for trustees. If they aren’t actively recruiting, I’d recommend reaching out to them anyway to let them know you’re interested and what you can offer to the board.

Do your homework

I cannot stress the importance of this enough.

Once you’ve found a charity of which you’d like to be a trustee, you need to do your due diligence. Take a look at its accounts on the Charity Commission website, book a call or a coffee with the chair, speak with the chief executive. And don’t forget the volunteers: 91 per cent of UK charities are led entirely by them. Make sure you’re as informed as you can be about the charity's finances, vision and culture.

Be clear on what you want out of it

Being a trustee is about volunteering your time and expertise to a charity, but you need to be clear about the benefits you’d like to gain too.

When I first joined the board of the Small Charities Coalition, I was very clear about what I wanted from the experience. Having worked in small charities myself, I’d never been able to get management experience. I wasn’t necessarily going to get this by being on a board, I was going to develop leadership skills.

In my time as a trustee, I have gained governance, decision-making, financial, policy and leadership skills. It’s also important that you share with the board what you’d like to gain, so that they can help you develop the skills you need and that you grow professionally.

Be honest about what you can offer

Charities need diverse boards in order to govern effectively and develop or take forward an organisational strategy, which is why when they are looking to recruit new trustees they will specify specific skills.

As digital professionals, your skills will be highly sought after and you’re in a privileged position (in my opinion). However, as we know, digital encompasses many disciplines, so be clear about the exact skills you can offer and how those skills could benefit the charity.

Be prepared for challenging times

Being a trustee is hard work and there will undoubtedly be challenges. What got me through the ones I encountered was my fellow trustees, past and present, as well as the brilliant people – again, past and present – at the Small Charities Coalition.

My advice is to face the challenges head on, seek external advice if needed and give and ask for support. Learn from the experience and put procedures or processes in place to help ensure there isn’t a repeat – or, if there is, that there is a process to manage it.

I want to thank my fellow trustees and the Small Charities Coalition team for a wonderful five years. I have grown both personally and professionally in that time and that is thanks to them. I also want to welcome the new trustees and wish them all the best in their roles – the charity is lucky to have them.

I have my sights set on my next trustee role with another charity close to my heart (they know who they are) so watch this space.

I hope this has inspired you to consider a digital trustee role. The sector needs you!

Kirsty Marrins is a digital communications consultant

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