Charities and social media

The Charity Commission are consulting on draft guidelines for trustees around social media use. This is an area of importance for small charities, but these guidelines will not be a great deal of use for trustees or staff.

This blog sets out my thinking as a small charity CEO and someone who does use social media personally to comment on political and charity topics amongst other things. I have looked at the main areas the commission think that the guidelines should cover and then at the specific area of personal accounts of staff, trustees, or volunteers.

To get other sector views I would start with this Twitter thread from Chris Walker at NCVO

The guidance states that

“If you use social media:

  • adopt a social media policy so that you have internal controls in place that are appropriate, proportionate and are clear to everyone at the charity using social media
  • ensure you use social media only to help you achieve your charity’s purpose (what your charity was set up to do) and in a way that is in your charity’s best interests
  • comply with relevant laws and regulations
  • any campaigning or political activity that you do on social media complies with the rules on political activity and campaigning
  • ensure your processes help you keep people safe online. Read the “Operating online” section of our guidance on safeguarding”

Looking at these 5 bullet points

Is a policy necessary?

Before we all rush to produce yet another policy that may well never be used, we need to think what should be in it and what real difference will it make. The guidance does suggest some headings for the policy but there is no detailed guidance for a small organisation without the expertise to develop something from scratch. Social media is not a black and white and works best as a conversation. It is also often very reactive and fast moving and is used by organisations for many purposes.

To make the most from social media there has to be trust and understanding in the team. In a small organisation this is often easier to manage, and trustees will be closer to the staff. It is important that trustees engage with the organisations social media to help boost reach and impact.

CCVS have actively decided not to develop a social media policy so that staff are not too constrained and can react, but we have updated our Employee Handbook to state:

“You must not make reference to the organisation or its services, or represent yourself on behalf of the organisation on social media, nor publicise photographs of our work online without formal permission from the organisation to do so (even where this work was undertaken by you.)”

Apart from this we have had a conversation, more detailed with the people with access to the channels, but all staff know what the different channels are for. This comes back to the team buying into the vision, mission and values of the organisation in all their interaction with stakeholders on social or in real life. We are a small team, we work on a basis of trust in all we do and we put in a minimum amount of oversight so that team members can exercise their discretion and creativity.

Only use social media to further your purpose.

We have to realise that as charities we have responsibilities beyond our primary purpose and we should be commenting and raising awareness on these.

As an organisation we a have a set of values that is not simply linked to our purpose but also related to our impact on the world. This will mean that charities will comment on issues that are reflected in their values, this may be liking posts or reposting content, of commenting. This is part of our wider responsibility as an organisation.

One of our values is ‘sustainability’ and as an organisation we think it is important that we talk about how we and others could help around the climate crisis, this might be about encouraging groups to think about things or change their practices to reduce climate impact, but it might also be about bigger things not directly linked to our primary purpose.

Don’t break the law

I am not arguing with this and don’t think that it needs to be in a policy.

But sometimes charities need to push the boundaries. If your purpose is to support refugees and highlight the issues impacting them should you post pictures of people crossing the channel in small boats to highlight what is happening?

Keep to the political campaigning rules.

These have been in place for a number of years and the whole area is mainly an issue for large charities and the guidelines have less impact on small ones, especially those that work locally.

As an organisation we campaign on issues that are relevant to our purpose, and part of this includes amplifying messages from local groups that could have a political element. We also use social media to speak to MPs and local politicians. We do not advocate for one party but we may call out candidates who do not respond to local hustings etc that are set up by members, and we may call out or praise a party locally. We are funded by different local authorities with different viewpoints and have to balance this with our role to ‘speak truth to power’.

This issue should not be part of a social media policy but covered in how you manage campaigning and communications more generally.

Keep people safe online

This is very important and is something that small charities need to give more thought to. This is about keeping the charity and all those involved with it safe. The government and others have done some fantastic work in this area producing useful and practical guides such as these from the National Cyber Security Centre.

Small Charity Guide to Cyber Security

Social media and how to use it safely

All staff should be made aware of these guides as should volunteers and trustees especially if they are posting on the charity’s sites.

Free speech

I start to have a real problem with this section of the guidance that states:

“What to do about problematic content posted or shared by anyone connected to the charity.

Trustees, employees or volunteers are free to post or share personal content and viewpoints on their own social media accounts.

Sometimes there are risks that an individual’s posts are interpreted as reflecting those of a charity. For example a trustee, employee or volunteer could post inappropriate content:

  • using a personal account where they can be associated with the charity, either through mixing both personal and professional content or because they list their workplace or role.
  • using an entirely personal account that could reasonably be linked to the person’s role at the charity.

As a trustee you are responsible for identifying and managing risks like this, such as by being clear what your rules are, which may be set out in your social media and/or HR policies. This is not intended to prevent general personal use of social media but to help make clear when the charity may have a legitimate concern as the employer.

If personal content has brought negative attention to the charity, consider what actions you may take based on how problematic the content is and what your policy says.”

Locally (and nationally) many people know my link with CCVS, and I have never hidden this on social media. I have worked in the sector over 30 years and been at CCVS in different roles for 11 years, over this time I have spoken to lots of people in person and online including on different social platforms. My personal profile does not mention CCVS but it wouldn’t take genius to make the connection if you read my posts.

Does this mean the trustees can dictate what I write? If I break the law then there could be a case for gross misconduct if it were for an area that had a direct impact on the charity. But if I decide to attend a protest and am arrested, or I tweet overtly political content this is not something the trustees can influence. The law around freedom of speech or the right to protest trump any organisational guidelines.

As a small organisation we operate on a basis of trust between, staff, trustees, volunteers and partners. I have CCVS in my core so would no more disparage the organisation than I would a family member or friend. We can not set rules and guidelines for all situations and we have to rely on trust, common sense, and the ability to have a conversation if there are issues to be addressed.

I think that an over prescriptive social media policy will reduce the impact that this form of communication can have across all areas of a charities work. I think that including a basic statement in a handbook, a policy, or a contract is sufficient. I also think that the trustees of a charity need to understand social media and that some if not all should follow and engage with their charities accounts. Most of all I think trustees need to invest in management that is by consent and not about command and control.

Written by Mark Freeman CEO

CCVS has a new Chair of Trustees – Welcome Flóra!

By Lorna Gough. February 2022.

We are delighted to announce the appointment of Flóra Raffai as the new CCVS Chair of Trustees.

Mark Freeman, our CEO welcomes Flóra and gives thanks to our outgoing Chair, Mary Sanders:

“I am really pleased that Flóra has been elected as the new Chair of CCVS and I am looking forward to working with her as CCVS moves into the future. I know that all the staff will join with me to welcome her into the new role. Flóra brings knowledge of the sector and a keen insight into the work we do, and I know that she will help us on to bigger and better things.

I am grateful to Mary for all the support she has given me, and the organisation over the years. Having such a knowledgeable and respected chair has been a real benefit to CCVS, and I am incredibly glad that she will remain as a trustee. Mary has overseen some big changes at CCVS and has helped to steer the organisation to where it is now. What is more she has helped me in the transition to the CEO role and I am hugely thankful for all she has done to support me.”

Flóra has been a CCVS Trustee since November 2018. Flóra tells us:

“I am honoured to be appointed as the new Chair of the Trustee Board at CCVS. Having previously benefited from the outstanding support CCVS provides to local charities, I am delighted to have an opportunity to give back. I am very much looking forward to working with my fellow trustees, the CCVS staff team, and the entire CCVS membership to champion local voluntary and community groups, the need for which has never been greater.”

Read more about why Flóra became a CCVS Trustee and what she enjoys about the role in this blog written for Trustees’ Week 2021.

Welcome to the role Flóra!

I feel honoured to be part of the organisation, by Flóra Raffai. Trustees’ Week 2021.

Tell us a little about yourself and your work and/or volunteering experience.

My name is Flóra Raffai and I have spent my career leading charities and non-profits, predominantly in the health and education sectors. Alongside work, I have volunteered as a mentor for small rare disease charities and I am currently working towards becoming an accredited transformational coach. I am driven by my passion to help people live their best possible lives and to make the future a brighter place.

Why did you become a trustee of CCVS?

I became a trustee of CCVS three years ago, in November 2018. At the time, I was the Chief Executive of a local charity that was a member of CCVS. I had greatly benefited from the membership, having attended useful training events and networking sessions. Working at a small charity, it can be difficult to know where to get information and who to turn to when you are stuck. CCVS provides that trusted, supportive guidance you need so that you can do your best in working with your community. When I heard that CCVS was looking to recruit new trustees, I jumped at the opportunity to give back to the organisation that had given me and others like me so much.

What does your role as a trustee entail?

Along with my fellow trustees, it is my role to oversee the charity’s management, administration, and strategy. The board of trustees has ultimate responsibility for the charity, to make sure it fulfils its aims and creates benefits for our community. From a practical point of view, this entails attending our quarterly trustee meetings to review the charity’s strategic and financial position, working closely with CCVS’s excellent CEO Mark Freeman to give advice on new initiatives and funding bids, and taking on additional responsibilities to support the team when needed. At the moment, I am also coaching two members of the lovely CCVS team.

What do you most enjoy about the role?

I most enjoy seeing the impact of CCVS’s work on the Cambridgeshire community and voluntary sector. I love reading our annual report, which summarises all the work done across the year to support hundreds of small groups and charities. I feel honoured to be part of the organisation and play a small part in making sure the charity continues to act as a multiplier for the community.

What would you say to anyone thinking about becoming a Trustee, particularly if they are unsure whether it is a role they could undertake? What do they need to consider?

The most important thing to consider before you become a trustee is whether you have enough time available to do a good job. A trustee role comes with legal responsibilities, so you want to make sure you have enough time to review papers, attend the board meetings, and respond to support requests. Talk to the charity to find out what time commitment they are expecting and when those time commitments take place (e.g. during the workday or outside working hours). Be honest with yourself and the charity about what you can take on.

I would highly recommend becoming a trustee, especially of a small local charity. If you have benefited from a charity’s services and support, then you have valuable lived experience that can be hugely beneficial to the charity’s board of trustees. If you have a background in finances, legal, people management, strategy, communications, service delivery, all of these skills can enhance a board of trustees and expand the knowledge within the team. If you have passion for the cause and time to help out, then you can make a real difference to a small team who need more hands on deck.

Time to give back, by Nicki Glen. Trustees’ Week 2021.

I have lived in Cambridgeshire for over 30 years and work with local, UK and international companies which have the health and welfare of people and animals as their core principles. Before becoming a charity trustee, I volunteered on an ad hoc basis for like-minded groups. Taking on a trustee role formalised the support I gave to various charities and showed me that I wanted to contribute on a more solid basis, using my career skills to benefit others.

It was time to give back: I wanted to be involved in a local charity. The Cambridge Council for Voluntary Service (CCVS) offered the perfect opportunity to do this, educating and supporting small and evolving charities in the area.

I am also a trustee for StreetVet. The charity’s team take their experience out to people living on the streets,  delivering veterinary care and support to them and to their pets, thus benefiting their combined well-being.

Becoming a trustee is a relevantly straightforward process so long as one realises the responsibilities this entails. It is important to engage fully in the charities’ activities and to understand the importance of decision-making and support for the team running the day-to-day work.

As a trustee for CCVS, I have gained greater insights as to the support needed in my locality and how I could use my skills in strategy, decision making and communications to support the CCVS team. I really enjoy the engagement I have with them. During the pandemic, the role of trustee presented no problems as the meetings are virtual  and we have continued as before. However, it is lovely to meet face to face as this brings a different dimension to our meetings.

CCVS are very successful in delivering education and support to other charities and members. We have made significant changes in the way we deliver this support. This has proved invaluable during the pandemic..

If you are considering becoming a trustee, it is important to think about the time commitment, responsibilities and legal implications involved. Overall, it is a very fulfilling volunteer role.

The importance of having an inclusive and representative board of Trustees, by Ellie Lee. Trustees’ Week 2021.

Something I have learned working with people with additional needs, mental and physical health issues, and those who are facing isolation and hardship, is that they are the real experts of their condition. They are resourceful and use everyday creativity and innovation to manage and overcome their difficulties.

They might not be aware of their potential and finding the right support often means they are finally able to explore possibilities they could not see before. Once they see that, they are capable of really making a change, for themselves and for others too, involving people with similar experiences on their journey.

We charity workers, are people who have dedicated our professional lives in helping others, giving them the support, but also the choice and the trust that they need most. We believe in their abilities to rise above challenges, because otherwise we would not do what we do.

Every day I see the impact of hard work with clients. I see them embracing a journey which improves the quality of their lives, fights isolation and loneliness, improves skills. I feel proud. Having somebody fighting their corner, the battle is not as bad with an ally. I also see that one of the fruits of that work is for clients to want to give back in a way they received help. They want to volunteer, to be an active part of the community they belong to. They want to use the strength that you helped them to build, to help others. And I personally believe that we should encourage them to take that path as far as they can, because they can really make a difference.

Many groups already understand how having people with lived experience of the issues their clients face, on the board of the trustees, is an incredibly positive asset for the organisation. They can deeply understand the needs of the people the charity wants to help, assessing how things are done from their perspective, but also appreciating the work that everyone is doing behind the scenes. Most importantly, they can bring a creative, innovative, problem solving attitude that is a powerful features for a trustee. They will be the advocates, the champions and the example to look at for your service users.

Undertaking such a role can be incredibly rewarding, but also challenging. The board of trustees and staff should value and recognise the unique knowledge that comes with lived experience. This, although different from professional knowhow other board members might have, is just as important. It will be a sustainable and efficient way to make sure the group is achieving the best possible results, with a board of trustees that really can represent the heart and soul of the group.

This week is Trustees week and now more than ever I would like to thank all those who are giving their time and sharing the knowledge and skills of their lived experience in Trustee roles in our groups. I would like to encourage those who have not yet recruited trustees who can really empathise with their clients, to consider the option.

Happy trustees week everyone!