How to convince trustees of the need to invest in digital skills development

To realise successful digital change, the support of trustees and leadership teams is crucial. This guide provides suggestions on how to make best use of trustees and senior leaders and how to share a compelling case for change using impact stories.

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How to convince trustees of the need to invest in digital skills development

1. The role of trustees

In this resource, our expert, Michael Turnpenny, Head of Museums Development Yorkshire, explores the importance of your trustees in any change programme and considers approaches to convince them of the urgency of change.

Trustees are important champions for your organisation and represent its mission and values externally, so having trustees fully behind the strategic direction of your organisation is critical.

The trustees and leadership team of your heritage organisation must act in a way that complies with your governing document and the law. This includes making sure your organisation achieves its purposes. Every trustee or director is responsible and accountable for this but they can delegate decision making or work to other people.

When trustees or directors delegate, they must have clear and robust reporting procedures and lines of accountability in place to ensure that delegation works well. When looking at digital skills and digital change more generally, it makes sense for trustees and directors to focus on policy, strategy and key procurement decisions, as opposed to detailed operational procedures.

As digital change can become very technical, staff and volunteers can play an important role in providing information and advice to trustees and directors. For example, staff and volunteers can advise trustees on the kinds of digital skills they should be investing in across the organisation. This will make it easier for them to focus on strategic change and take informed decisions.

For more information on the role of trustees, look at the Charity Commission’s 2018 guide.

2. Effective change

Look at Stephen Dobson’s resource ‘Persuading your stakeholders of the value of digital change’ to explore how to create an appetite for and talk about change. To ensure that trustees and executives support a digital change programme from start to finish, there are some common steps you can take.

The resource ‘Managing change using an eight-step model’ describes the use of Dr John Kotter’s eight steps for leading effective change. The same steps are appropriate here as a useful approach to take with trustees and executives to secure support for digital change. These steps also help clarify how trustees and executives can make the best use of their time. In a process of digital change, these steps can be concurrent, involve a cross-section of people and run alongside regular everyday activity.

3. Choosing your narrative

Key to the eight-step programme of change is the first step – the need to create a sense of urgency around a single big opportunity. If you know which digital skills your organisation needs to focus on, there is a simple tool you can use to create that sense of urgency – storytelling.

Most people respond well to simple, concrete and emotional stories. To create a sense of urgency in your narrative there are a number of different lenses you can try to see which makes your story most compelling. You can use this approach with trustees and executives to secure their support and to create the urgency required to form your ‘guiding coalition’.

The way you communicate your sense of urgency about digital skills depends on whether the situation is positive or negative, in the present or in the future. The table below shows the different perspectives or lenses you can use.

Present Future
Negative Crisis Risk
Positive Opportunity Vision

Try telling the same story from the perspective of a present crisis or present opportunity. Then try telling it from the perspective of a future risk or the vision you have for the future.

For example, you might craft a story around the need for social media skills development. Perhaps this need arose from a sudden crisis where no one was able to effectively moderate a Twitter thread which led to negative press for the organisation. Or perhaps this is a future risk you want to point out to your trustees. Alternatively, maybe there is an opportunity to live stream an upcoming event but your team currently lacks the skills to make this a reality. Or the practice of live streaming events might form part of the new organisational vision to ensure all programming is accessible to online audiences.

Next, test your story or narrative with other people in your heritage organisation to see which perspective makes the most impact. Use this version to talk with trustees and executives about the urgent need to make digital change.

Framing your needs in this way humanises the need for change and development. Your story highlights the skills your team requires to achieve the organisation’s aims and vision and can help trustees better understand the need to prioritise and invest in professional digital skills development. This shared narrative helps to convince others of the value of your goals.

Find out more at The Influential Fundraiser.

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Persuading your stakeholders of the value of digital change

Any kind of organisational change can be challenging. This guide provides a useful framework for understanding how to communicate with and involve staff and volunteers in addressing the need for digital change in heritage organisations.

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Managing change using an eight-step model

It is important that a new business model is broken down into actionable steps. This guide offers advice and a framework to help identify a roadmap which provides clear steps to ensure buy-in.


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Change Change management Impact Stakeholders Trustees
Published: 2022
Resource type: Articles

Creative Commons Licence Except where noted and excluding company and organisation logos this work is shared under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 (CC BY 4.0) Licence

Please attribute as: "How to convince trustees of the need to invest in digital skills development (2022) by Michael Turnpenny supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, licensed under CC BY 4.0


More help here

Digital Heritage Hub is managed by Arts Marketing Association (AMA) in partnership with The Heritage Digital Consortium and The University of Leeds. It has received Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and National Lottery funding, distributed by The Heritage Fund as part of their Digital Skills for Heritage initiative. Digital Heritage Hub is free and answers small to medium sized heritage organisations most pressing and frequently asked digital questions.

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