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Key points:

  • Social media is an effective, inexpensive way for small charities to convey information, interact with the public and generate support for their cause.
  • However, there are risks involved in using social media that small charities need to be aware of.
  • Charities should use social media responsibly, in line with public expectations and in ways which do not compromise the charity’s reputation or community standing. Social media use must not result in a breach of ACNC Governance Standards.
  • A social media use policy can guide charity behaviour and help mitigate risks.

Before you begin using social media, your charity needs to be clear on why you are actually doing so.

Are you going to use it to inform? To advocate? To interact with supporters and the public? To attract support? A mix of everything?

Start by defining what your charity hopes to achieve through its social media use. This can then form the basis for your social media policy.

Social media can provide smaller charities with a practical and cost-effective way to communicate with supporters, members, volunteers and the public.

Small charities can use social media to instantly inform audiences of news about their organisation, showcase their work, build their charity’s reputation and interact with the public.

Charities also need to be aware of the risks associated with social media use and have measures in place to mitigate them.

Over the years, the ACNC has received concerns about small charities’ use of social media.

These concerns often centre on a few areas of problem behaviour, including:

  • using social media to conduct bullying or harassment
  • inappropriate responses to public comments on a social media post
  • internal disputes between current or past members of the charity playing out in public
  • inappropriate language or imagery in social media content.

Some charities have seen their social media platforms 'hijacked' by staff or volunteers who previously had access to the charity’s social media platforms but who have since left the organisation on bad terms.

In other cases, the poor behaviour on social media has come from Responsible People or those in another leadership role.

These problems can create serious damage, including:

  • loss of donations and support for your charity
  • damage to your charity’s reputation
  • an inability for your charity to carry outs its aims or effectively continue its work
  • breaches of ACNC Governance Standards.

The ACNC does not mediate in disputes within charities, including those played out on social media. However, the ACNC may investigate allegations of breaches to the Governance Standards.

A social media policy provides direction and a reference point on how your charity should behave on social media. Your policy should be clear, concise and lay out:

  • what social media is, and the platforms your charity uses
  • the social media activities your charity undertakes
  • a reminder of the risks of social media use, as well as a clear statement that your charity’s social media presence is professional and respectful
  • who can interact or post material on social media on behalf of your charity
  • the types of behaviour your policy prohibits
  • any procedures or guidelines if something does go awry, and how you will address these issues.

It is important to ensure that your charity limits who can publish on social media on its behalf. That includes keeping tabs on who has access to your social media passwords, as well as ensuring that people cannot post on social media on behalf of your charity after they have left your organisation.

For more detailed information about social media use for charities, visit the Not-for-profit (NFP) Law website. NFP Law is a program of Justice Connect, a community legal service that provides free and low-cost resources for not-for-profit organisations.

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