Charity governance: what’s this got to do with digital?

In the past year or so the charity sector has delivered two new codes, the Charity Governance Code and the Charity Digital Code of Practice, both regarded as critical to a charity’s long-term sustainability. Are they bedfellows? Frank Bennett, co-founder of Digi-Board, explains. 

The governance and digital conversation

A governance review is a laborious pen and paper exercise, intrusive of the time of trustees and the senior leadership team.  It is arguably overdue a refresh and with the sector’s focus on digital has that time arrived?

Both governance and digital are weighty subjects that need expertise to progress and it is known that these skills are high in demand and short in supply. No surprise then, that despite their importance and the best intentions to pursue them, they can fall to the bottom of the board’s agenda. Time to change that?

Putting digital to work

The Charity Digital Code of Practice has seven principles several of which are common and referred to in the principles of the Charity Governance Code.

The codes were developed following extensive consultation of charities and experts from within the charity sector including ACEVO.  They were designed to be practical tools to guide charity leaders to adopt practices most relevant to their charity.  However, in practice, it isn’t always easy to translate the principles into “what do we need to do about this?” Yet common threads emerge from the two codes and relevant to charity leaders.  These are:

  • Leadership
  • Strategy
  • Culture
  • Risks and ethics

What does the list above suggest?  Is this where the agendas of digital and governance collide?  With digital becoming a strategic imperative it signals time for charities to add digital to the governance agenda and deliver governance on a digital agenda.

So how close are we to meeting the dual leadership challenge of delivering governance dutifully assessed against the Charity Governance Code and taking a lead on digital?

The ‘G’ word

The very mention of the word governance sends many running for the hills. From our work, we observe trustees and charity leaders who:

  • Have had little or no training to develop their governance skills and expertise
  • Find it difficult to interpret the principles of the codes in a practical way to assess its impact on the running of the charity, so why bother
  • Are concerned it takes up too much time and not related to the day-to-day operational running of the charity
  • Consider governance reviews to be for another day

They knew that governance is important yet aren’t always sure about how governance would help their charity to achieve its purposes.  They are not in the governance mindset.  They do however want to feel confident that the charity is doing the right thing in the right way and to have peace of mind!  There is the contradiction.

Peace of Mind

It is essential that every CEO and trustee feel confident that the charity’s governance is fundamental to their success and supports compliance with the law and relevant regulations. Only trustees and senior leadership team can perform the examination of their charity’s governance. So, can digital help?

The application of digital to governance is proven. It abolishes the time-consuming tedium of a pen and paper approach and replaces it with powerful online services and crushes the time to execute a governance review.  Using powerful data analytics the wordy governance report is replaced by easy to interpret charts (as below).  Digital is a step change for governance reviews and as the Charity Digital Code reports: “digital helps charities to increase impact, develop skills and improve sustainability”.


The evaluation of 65 data points gathered from a questionnaire completed by trustees and SLT is interpreted as charts.  This greatly simplifies the review and discussion of a charity’s governance by everyone irrespective of their experience of governance and knowledge of the codes.

Real progress

As the Charity Digital Code states: ‘Digital isn’t just about channels. It’s a strategic and governance issue and charity leaders need to know how digital could help realise their vision for their charity’. 

Now the dual leadership challenge of delivering good governance and charity leaders taking a lead with digital is now within reach and available to ACEVO members through the service directory at preferential rates.

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Photo by Matt Artz on Unsplash

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