Observations from my journey into Digital Trusteeship

7th November 2023
Author: Amy Coates

Last year, Adam Hill joined VONNE’s board of trustees and is using his digital knowledge and skills to support us as an organisation. In this blog, Adam talks about his decision to join VONNE, what to consider when becoming a trustee and why the sector needs more digital trustees. 

Last year, I was privileged to be invited to join the VONNE board of trustees. I knew VONNE well, having worked with the team on multiple occasions over a number of decades, but to be offered a position on the board was a different opportunity and one that my heart was instantly accepting. My head however, said to find out a bit more first - this was something new to me and while I knew what the role of a Trustee was in general terms, it was important to be absolutely sure that this was something that would be right for both me and the team at VONNE.

I have worked with charities, social enterprises and non-profit organisations for the whole of my nearly 30 years career in tech and digital, however this was my first opportunity to experience the trustee role. Having worked on the setup of the Digital Pathfinders programme and more recently the formation of Tech for Good North East as part of my role at Sunderland Software City, it felt like the right fit. For many years I have worked strategically in the North East at the meeting point of the technology and VCSE sectors, so to fill a digital trustee role at an infrastructure organisation made sense.

Make sure there is a good fit

Being a trustee with a charity that fits with either your personal or professional goals (or in my case I’m lucky to say it fit both!) is an ideal starting place. Being a trustee should be about what you can bring to the organisation, but you’ll provide the best support if it is something you are passionate about and/or have experience in.

It didn’t take long but after discussions with the Carol Botten (CEO), existing trustees and members of the team, I decided this felt like the right fit and I agreed, just in time to be voted onto the board at the 2022 AGM.

At first there was some anxiety. Will I actually be of any use to a group of such experienced professionals? Does my knowledge and experience allow me to contribute? Am I really going to be able to provide value to the organisation?

As part of my work on Tech for Good North East I was really excited to work with the Community Foundation on an event for Digital Trustees. This, paired with the warm welcome I received from VONNE and the rest of the board put most of these anxieties aside.

Anyone can be a trustee

While there are important responsibilities to being a trustee, anyone with the ability to understand these responsibilities and with the time and desire to share their skills and knowledge with others, can contribute to a successful charity board. Every charity is different and requires different and diverse people to support its governance - if there is a fit, you could be just what that charity needs.

My focus on the VONNE board is technology, digital and data. Having worked on digital projects with charities of all sizes, it was particularly encouraging to know that I could help to guide the organisation in this area. I firmly believe that digital technologies are one of the most crucial opportunities to support the development of the sector, and yet a large number of organisations still lack the support required to adopt at a pace which is fitting with the changes in society.

Approaching the end of my first year as a trustee I have been really excited to provide ideas, advice and insight to support a team that is already dedicated to embedding technology internally and as a pillar of the services they provide to charities across the North East. However it is clear having met with a significant number of charities in this role and my day job that this is something that other organisations are craving and haven’t yet been able to find the level of support they need.

We need more digital trustees

We have a thriving technology sector in the North East and the role of Digital Trustees is a sustainable way to not only help charities to develop their digital skills and knowledge, but would also provide a stronger link between these two sectors in the region. We need to find more trustees in the North East that can provide the insight and knowledge that charities need to further increase social impact with the support of technology.

Programmes like Digital Pathfinders in the North of Tyne are having a major impact in helping charities adopt digital technologies, but I also think that there is an important role to play for VONNE to have conversations, provide support and develop initiatives in digital. That is why I was over the moon when the VONNE team proposed the idea of making the upcoming AGM focus on Artificial Intelligence.

AI is everywhere right now, and it is hard to avoid the wave of hype that tools such as ChatGPT and DALL-E have created, but in the most part it is still not clear what benefit these tools could have on the sector. The VONNE team have brought together an exciting range of partners at the fantastic venue of Sunderland City Hall, and I really hope you’ll join us in this conversation, and hear more about some of the existing applications in the sector.

If you are interested in finding out more about being a digital trustee, or would like help understanding where to find them - please do get in touch, or sign up at Tech for Good North East for future updates.

Being a trustee improves lives

My final observation is that being a charity trustee is something we can all do and it improve lives in so many ways. The support provided to a charity contributes to increased impact they have with the people and organisations they work with, the staff of the organisation benefit from stronger governance and support when they need it, and trustees gain the significant rewards that come with being part of something bigger. It’s something that if you have the time, I can recommend to everyone.