The Road Ahead

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Convincing senior leaders and trustees to get involved in digital change

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Use this page to understand how other organisations have tackled digital change and used their leadership skills to decide what could make a difference in your organisation.

A key step on the digital journey is getting support from senior leaders. If the chief executive and board are late adopters, progress will be slower. The reverse is true if they’re the ones demanding new technologies and ways of working. The situation with coronavirus has helped many organisations move things forward. Others still need help.

Why do barriers to digital change exist?

If your senior leaders aren't interested in digital, there must be a reason why. If you want to change their minds, you need to understand where they are starting from, and what matters to them. There are many potential barriers among senior leadership.

Do you recognise any in this list?

  • Inertia - digital transformation is messy and complicated.
  • Leaders’ lack of technological knowledge and a willingness to use new approaches and ways of working. Senior leaders may not want to embrace change. They may be worried that they will seem weak or out of touch.
  • Practical factors: budget, time and resource. Leaders can be worried about their own capacity and capacity of their teams.
  • Many charity leaders will have seen charities invest lots of money in big technological projects that went wrong. For example, new websites and new CRM systems. Those leaders will need you to prove this won’t happen on your projects.

It may also be down to the culture and openness to change of trustee boards. Trustees are often older and more distant from the day-to-day running of the organisation. They can also be less enthusiastic about radical change. They can be more risk averse and they make decisions much more slowly.

But remember with boards:

  • If senior staff say they need something, boards find it difficult to refuse.
  • People on a board will change over time so there’s scope to recruit new individuals with the necessary skills, a 'digital trustee'.

How to break down the barriers to digital change

Charities and experts gave us some techniques which worked for them.

Understand the people involved

Think about the standards of evidence and proof that your senior leaders prefer. Are they most interested in what their peers have done, or in data, or personal experience? Whichever tool is mostly likely to change their mind is the one you need to use.

Show what happened elsewhere

Use case studies and examples from other charities to show how they’ve implemented digital changes and how that led to success. Leaders like to emulate peer best practice.

Shared Digital Guides is a good place to start looking for examples.

Get external validation

Involve external individuals such as consultants, mentors, and professionals from digital agencies. They may be agreeing with your digital lead but, as external advisers, their words can carry more weight.

Show how other organisations are receiving funding for the type of project you know you need.

Start with our information on funding for digital.

Build internal support

If you’re making the case for change, and can’t approach or influence the trustees or leaders try to find support elsewhere in the organisation. Which other members of staff can be persuaded of the value of your case? Build a consensus amongst your team and use this to persuade the decision makers.

User research

Gather evidence from service users to show the value of digital. Can you show that you need to use digital channels to remain relevant to those users? If so, use that information to make the case.

Sign up for free training in user-led digital thinking that includes user research at Cast’s Design Hop.

The financial case

Digital can help raise new funds, make significant savings and help staff work smarter. If you can show that a short-term investment will bring long-term gains, that's a powerful tool. You want to present digital as a valuable asset that can help the organisation realise its strategic goals.

Get a small win

We recommend starting small, and making one system work better – often an internal system. This will provide proof that it can work and is the best way to deliver digital change.

Get some more information about how to start small from our page looking at tackling barriers to digital change for staff and volunteers.

Help senior leaders be comfortable with digital

Help your leaders understand the technology, the language, and the ways of working, and why they exist. If your leaders feel comfortable with digital, they are much more likely to back it.

Show that change is necessary

It's much easier to get leaders on board if change is necessary. Can you demonstrate it's needed to suit funders, to win a contract, or because your old systems will no longer do their job? Share reports and resources from the section below. For example, these show changes charities have made to adapt to new ways of working during lockdown.

Information to help your organisation make digital changes

Leaders in the voluntary sector have produced a code of practice to make sure they’re getting the most out of digital. You don’t have to be a charity to use it. Discover the Charity Digital Code.

Work out what level of skills you have in your organisation and how to build on them. Digital skills in your organisation.

Here’s a digital checklist digital for trustees and leaders. Its focus is covid-19 but it’s also useful for preparing for digital change and growth at any time.

If you’ve already had some success, but want to do more, set aside some time to work through a quick assessment tool. Try NCVO’s Digital Maturity Matrix.

To understand other organisations' experiences you can look at these reports.

Last reviewed: 02 March 2021

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This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 02 March 2021

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