Taken from ICDA's member
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Research shows why your board lacks ICT nous

We're living in a digital age, and moving quickly into a new data era. Yet new research undertaken exclusively by Our Community's data intelligence initiative, the Innovation Lab, shows ICT expertise on not-for- profit boards is failing to keep pace with the digital world.

We've examined not-for-profit board recruitment data from 2008 to 2017 and found that boards are not seeking new directors with a good understanding of ICT (Information and Communications Technology).

You might assume, then, that the demand for ICT skills on not-for-profit boards and executive teams would be increasing, but our analysis shows this is not the case.

ICT skills are still a low priority

Our study reviewed more than 2700 board vacancies advertised on to test the demand for ICT expertise relative to other types of expertise.

Across all board vacancies advertised since 2008, less than 16% list ICT as a desired skill.

In the past year it ranked 13th on the list of skills sought, down from its highest ever ranking of 12th, and most years it has ranked 14th or 15th.

Since 2008, the top four areas of expertise most highly sought by boards have been consistent.

The areas of highest demand include:

  • Fundraising/partnerships
  • Finance/accounting
  • PR/marketing
  • Business/corporate

The order of the top four may have changed slightly in that time, but the study showed organisational size doesn't affect the demand for ICT skills.

The study also showed demand for ICT skills remains static: it hasn't increased over time, apart from a brief and small rise five years ago, despite the growing reliance on technology, and its complexity and associated expenditure.

What is most telling is that ICT skills are very rarely sought out explicitly. Less than 5% of board vacancies are exclusively for people with ICT skills. Even when vacant roles call for a mix of two to 10 different skills, less than a third include ICT.

study results

Enabling your organisation to thrive in the digital age

There are several aspects to managing ICT effectively within your organisation. The size of your organisation will play a part in determining what exactly the board's role is in all this.

For example, in a large organisation, the board's role may be mainly strategic, while staff will take care of operations.

In a very small volunteer-run organisation, the board may have a strategic role but also play operational parts ranging from ICT purchaser to ICT help desk.

Wherever your board falls on the spectrum, you can't afford not to have strong ICT expertise at board level.

As your need for ICT increases, and your ICT expenditure grows, consider how your board is positioned to respond. If you don't have the necessary ICT skills in your leadership team, it might be time to recruit for them.

Get the right technology

The process begins with understanding your ICT needs, then assessing available tools. Suitability, usability and value-for-money all need to be considered.

A number of free tools are available, and some providers offer discounts to not-for-profits.

Make sure the technology works well

It takes time, skills and effort to maintain technology systems so they work well. If you have adopted cloud-based solutions, the features of the tools may change over time. If you maintain systems in-house, you will need to consider how often to upgrade and how to address problems (for example, security flaws).

Ensure your talent can use the tools

To use technology effectively, staff and volunteers may need training as part of their induction, or to perform specific tasks.

Manage your systems well

As your organisation moves into the digital age, more of your communications, information and documents will be managed electronically. Without strategic direction, this can quickly become overly complicated as the number of communication channels, electronic filing systems and technological standards start to accumulate.

Get the right policies in place

Depending on your annual turnover, you may be subject to privacy legislation. In any case, to handle your data ethically and maintain trust, it is important to have in place appropriate procedures for the collection, handling and use of personal information (information that can be used to identify individuals) and other confidential information.

A security breach can be very damaging to your organisation's reputation, whether it's the result of a "hack" or as simple as someone in your organisation accidentally leaking information (e.g. misplacing a report or losing a laptop).

Support performances with data

As more of your organisation is managed through technology, there are significant opportunities to monitor its performance through data analytics and reporting.

But without effective ICT leadership, data will be difficult to access, the quality of the data may be low, and you may not have the tech skills needed to bring data together in a way that is useful as an input to decision-making.

NFP special coverage: Develop your digital strategy.