Charity Commission for England and Wales publishes new guidance for charities using social media

31st October 2023

If your charity has a social media presence, it is important to have robust social media policies in place to support the charity’s trustees, employees and volunteers. This becomes increasingly important given the fast-changing nature of technology.

In its guidance, the Commission focuses on the risks of social media, the responsibilities of trustees, and what to consider if an issue does arise, with its overarching purpose being “to help trustees understand how their existing duties apply to their charity’s use of social media and to encourage charities that use social media to adopt a policy on how they use it.”

What are the benefits and risks of social media?

Social media allows charities to engage with a wide audience and raise awareness of its work. However, the powerful communication tool of social media includes the threat of reputational risk to charities if used improperly, together with a risk to public trust and confidence in charities generally.

What other support has the Commission provided?

In addition to its guidance, the Commission has provided a template social media policy specifically created for charities, signposting organisations and resources which can help improve social media knowledge and skills. Also included is a checklist to help charities develop a social media policy, or revise their existing one.

The consultation process

The Commission conducted an 8-week public consultation on its draft guidance on charities’ use of social media with the overriding aim of ensuring the guidance was as clear and helpful as possible to trustees.

What did the guidance cover?

The government’s guidance focuses on the following:

  • Social media policy The policy should be tailored to the charity’s needs, specifically: explaining how the charity will engage with the public; identify who is responsible for the day-to-day management of the social media; and identify how the charity will use its social media to help deliver the charity’s purpose.
  • Managing potential risks in posting or sharing social media content. The Commission recommends that trustees, staff and volunteers responsible for managing the charity’s social media should receive appropriate training. The policy should make clear that the charity should not post or share content which is: harmful; inconsistent with the charity’s purpose; against its best interests; or in breach of the law (including, but not limited to, UK GDPR rules, copyright law and privacy laws).
    • Content posted or shared by your charity on social media. The social media policy should confirm who is responsible for managing the charity’s social media accounts. This should also include procedures in place to deal with a breach of policy or a situation where the content of a post risks significant damage to the charity’s reputation.
    • Content posted or shared by trustees, employees or volunteers on their personal social media accounts. Trustees, staff and volunteers have the right to exercise their freedom of expression within the law in their communications on social media. However, charities should take steps to protect their best interests, and any risks or negative impact to the charity should be managed through appropriate internal guidelines.
    • Using social media to engage with the public. If content is posted on a charity’s social media that poses a risk to the charity, the charity’s policy should set out what action should be taken in the circumstances. In particular it should cover whether it should be reported to the platform and whether the user should be banned or blocked from engaging with the charity, and the process for taking legal advice and reporting to the police.
    • Social media of organisations connected to the charity. The risks of the charity being unduly associated with comments made by partner organisations should be carefully managed.
  • Engaging on emotive topics. The Commission acknowledges that “Charities can be involved in issues that provoke strong emotions”. When doing so, charities should give consideration to: the risks to the charity; the potential impact on the charity’s resources and staff; the charity’s complaints procedure; and any other rules or regulations surrounding the topic. In any event, such engagement should achieve the charity’s charitable purpose and be in the charity’s best interests.
  • Campaigning or political activity on social media. Charities can use social media to engage in campaigning and political activity, however this is subject to additional rules published by the Commission.
  • Fundraising on social media. All charities that fundraise on social media platforms must comply with The Code of Fundraising Practice, which outlines both the legal rules that apply to fundraising and the standards designed to ensure that fundraising is open, honest and respectful.
  • Staying safe online. Processes should be adopted to help manage access to the charity’s social media accounts and security, including when such access is misused.

What does this mean for charities?

The government acknowledges that one size does not fit all and therefore any social media policy must be tailored meeting the charity’s own particular needs and best interests. The benefits of social media should be explored, whilst keeping in mind the risks that using it poses and having systems and processes in place to manage those risks.

As a charity using social media, you should ensure that you have a robust policy in place that is fit for purpose, and that it is followed. If you are unsure, legal advice should be sought.

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