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In September 2023, the Charity Commission released updated guidance on how charities should engage with social media. But what’s changed? And what does the guidance mean for charities? Our policy and public affairs manager, Chris Walker, shares highlights, takeaways and key actions.
When done well, social media can be a hugely positive tool for charities. It can help increase profile, drive fundraising opportunities, and provide a way to highlight and respond to key issues as they happen.
While some charities serve physical communities based on their location, others support people who are connected by their interests and experiences. Many of these people might never meet without the power of social media. Building communities online helps create opportunities for conversation, sharing and learning, especially among hard-to-reach audiences.
Before we get into the detail, the main thing to note is that this latest update to the guidance clearly reiterates the legitimate role of charities to campaign, if it’s in the interests of meeting their charitable objectives.
We’re grateful to the Commission for listening to concerns and feedback from NCVO members, and ensuring they were addressed in the latest revised guidance. We hope the new guidance will give trustees and sector leaders confidence and clarity on the parameters so they can use social media well in their vital work.
Creating a social media policy is an important step for all organisations, regardless of their size or how they intend to use social media.
As the Commission’s guidance outlines, creating a policy is an important step to help meet your responsibilities. The guidance says charities should ‘have internal controls that are appropriate and proportionate for your charity’s needs and which are clear to everyone at the charity using social media.’
You should tailor the content of the policy to meet your charity’s needs. How detailed your policy is and how much resource you will need to develop it should match the level of risk presented by how your charity uses social media. It will also depend on the other activities your charity is carrying out.
Alongside the guidance the Charity Commission has also released a checklist to help you develop a social media policy.
You can find more templates and advice in our digital communications, campaigns and content guidance.
Using social media creates opportunities, but it also creates risks.
According to the guidance it’s important to consider ‘how you can manage those risks, including by acting reasonably and responsibly to protect your charity.’
Using social media in riskier contexts can attract significant public interest or criticism. The Commission has also said that criticism can be mitigated by trustees ensuring their charity conducts its activity with ‘respect and tolerance’.
Charities can be involved in issues that provoke strong emotions. Your charity can engage on emotive issues if this is a way of achieving your charitable purpose and is in the charity’s best interests.
However, the Commission suggests you should plan appropriately. For example, you should consider:
If you’re using social media in riskier contexts, for example with vulnerable individuals or on emotive issues, use the Charity Commission’s decision-making guidance to help you make a proper consideration and assess the risks.
It’s important to remember that while you have control over what you share, you don’t necessarily have control over who sees it. It’s important to think about who might be seeing content, and if that content might be triggering to people online. Especially if you’re ‘provoking emotions’.
According to the Commission’s guidance, your social media policy should make it clear that your charity should not post or share content which is ‘harmful’.
The guidance explains that ‘what may be harmful to one person might not be considered an issue by someone else, however the UK Safer Internet Centre defines harmful content in simple terms as anything online which causes a person distress or harm.’
The Commission’s operating online safeguarding guidance has more information.
As social media continues to evolve, how we engage with it and the guidance around it must evolve too.
We look forward to working with the Commission on future reviews of this guidance to ensure it continues to reflect the context in which charities operate and communicate.
We hope you’ve found this piece useful. The team at NCVO is always available to discuss any questions or concerns. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to speak to the team.
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