Charity trustees & CEOs need to get to grips with digital

My recent piece for Third Force News looks at my work with Scottish charity chief executives and senior staff on the OneDigital action learning programme. It’s been a privilege to be involved with charity leaders who are really challenging their organisation and future proofing the work they do.

Many of the non-profits participating are taking a fresh look at the fundamentals of how they work. Their starting point is service users and supporters, not digital tools. They’re making simple changes to transform the way their staff and volunteers work, and allowing them to get excited and empowered about the vital work they deliver.

All of this work is propelled forward by the broader OneDigital programme and the Scottish Government’s digital strategy. However, having worked with these charity leaders over the last few months it’s clear that we need radical change if the sector is ever going to truly embrace digital.

Effective leadership needs to be the starting point. The charities taking part in our action learning sets have embraced change because they’ve got passionate, effective leaders. Senior leaders and trustees can no longer rely on junior staff to make key strategic decisions about digital. It’s not just about social media, it’s not just about the server that sits in your cupboard and it’s not just about your fundraising database. This is about looking at what you do with a fresh pair of eyes, experimenting and empowering staff and service users – it needs to be about real culture change. It’s about seeing the transformational potential of digital service delivery.

For many organisations all of this leads to one fundamental question: is your chief executive or chairperson ready to fundamentally reassess how you do things in light of the potential offered by digital?

Charities need a new relationship with technology. Let’s end the age of the giant IT infrastructure system and aim to get to the point where IT becomes invisible. Beyond that, we need to ensure all decisions we make are based upon effective use of data. We need to be geared up to spot societal trends. It’s vital that we respond quickly to the needs of our communities and we need to be able to truly measure the impact we have.

We need to move away from seeing data as a tool to win and report on funding, it’s about delivering the best services we can, when and where people need them.

Funding is going to be key to all of this. That doesn’t necessarily mean more tech-focused niche funding streams. In fact it would be much more productive if funders simply encouraged more people to make digital-first grant applications to mainstream funding streams. That’s probably going to mean training grants officers to assess projects where digital is key, and we need more funders challenging charities to think about where digital can improve outcomes.

Alongside the OneDigital team, I’m currently working on a charity senior leaders’ digital call to action. This will be a blueprint for change, shaped by those taking part in the action learning programme. Hopefully this will kick-start a wider conversation about the need for effective leadership, culture change, flexible technology, smarter funding, and collaborative data. Less strategy, more doing.

The Call to Action will be launched on 2 November at the Senior Leaders Digital Unconference – 3rdsectordigicamp. This event is open to senior leaders and key stakeholders from across the third sector.

Five simple ways to get everyone in your organisation passionate about social media

I cannot believe I’m writing a piece on getting everyone in an organisation involved with social media in 2014, but the reality is most charities and public sector organisations are a long way off truly embracing the medium. Technology isn’t really the issue – it all boils down to trust. That isn’t to say that managers feel their staff will spend all day tweeting photos of their cat, but most don’t feel confident managing a strategic approach to using social channels.

While it’s easy to brush off social media as the responsibility of your marketing or communications person (if you’re lucky enough to have one), if you do, you’re missing a trick. Data shows that employees have greater reach, more influence and generate more revenue than official, branded organisation accounts. The organisation that taps into the reach and influence of its employees is much more likely to succeed in the social age.

So, if you’re tasked with making social media work within your organisation, how do you ensure everyone is on board? Here’s my five top tips which originally appeared in my article for the summer edition of Children in Scotland Magazine:

1. Show people that social media can help them get their job done
Staff don’t have an extra four hours in the week to ‘do’ social media. You need to show them how social media can help get their job done, how you can achieve your team’s goals and how you can reach your key audiences. You need a strategy. It’s a scary word, but, with a framework, you can create something meaningful and succinct.

2. Ensure people feel protected and empowered
If your social media policy was written by your IT-support person, it’s probably 15 pages long and terrifying as hell. He/she may be great at keeping your server ticking over, but they shouldn’t be single-handedly responsible for defining how your organisation communicates with the outside world. You need a policy that protects staff and your organisation, while making staff feel empowered and trusted, allowing them to experiment and drive your online communications. And it needn’t be more than one side of A4.

3. Create social media champions within each team
A strategy is great but without people driving it forward you’ll get nowhere. Start small and recruit social media champions who can get their team enthused – this also gives you a better opportunity to demonstrate impact to executive level staff. Give champions ownership of the channels they’re most experienced with and passionate about. Don’t make your video content champion the person who has never held a camera before.

4. Give volunteers and service users a meaningful role
At Third Sector Lab we spend a lot of our time training volunteers and service users to become social reporters for third sector conferences and events. The rich audio and video content these reporters create really tells the story of a conference in the way a written report cannot. How can you involve volunteers and service users in your online communications in a way that empowers them and tells their story?

5. Make sure the Chief Executive believes
The organisations that thrive in the social space are usually the ones who have a Chief Executive that values staff involvement. Just look at Young Scot – their online presence is driven by Louise MacDonald’s belief that social media can help bring about social good. More importantly she trusts her staff to get the job done using whatever tools necessary. While it can feel an uphill struggle at times, getting people from across the organisation involved in social media is worth the pain. People connect with people – they don’t connect with faceless, branded corporate accounts. If you want to use social media as a campaigning, fundraising and potentially service delivery channel you need to remember that.

Do you have any top tips for getting staff involved in your social media presence?