Charities and Social Media: How to use The Charity Commission’s Social Media Policy Guidance

Ben Matthews

By Ben Matthews


Reading Time: 5 minutes

The Charity Commission for England and Wales has published updated social media guidance to help charities understand how their legal duties are relevant to their use of social media.

The guidance was evolved using comments from the charity sector, with feedback gathered during a consultation process with nearly 400 responses from charities.

As the Charity Commission outlines, social media can be a powerful communication tool for charities, but some risks come with using it. Their updated guidance is designed to help charities understand the risks, highlight the responsibilities of trustees, and describe what to consider if issues with social media do arise.

How has the charity sector responded to the guidance on social media?

Empower’s team of social media experts have reviewed both the original guidance and the updated versions. In many areas where there were significant concerns, the Commission has simplified or nuanced its position in its final guidance, which has been received positively by the charity sector.

For example, NCVO CEO Sarah Vibert noted that the updated guidance supports the role of social media in campaigning if it helps them meet their charitable objectives, and an article in Civil Society outlines how the Charity Commission has addressed many of the concerns raised in the consultation. 

What does the Charity Commission’s guidance on social media cover?

The Charity Commission acknowledges that social media can support them in raising awareness and funds, better engaging beneficiaries, and reaching a much wider audience, much quicker than traditional methods of communication.

However, the fast nature of social media can increase the risk of posting content that is inappropriate or harmful, and once it’s posted, it can be hard to undo. 

The resulting guidance from the Charity Commission outlines several areas to think about how your charity can use social media effectively. It also outlines the risks it may bring, and how to manage those risks by acting reasonably and responsibly to protect your charity.

The guidance covers the following areas, click on the link to be taken directly to each section:

  1. Set a social media policy
  2. Managing potential risks in posting or sharing social media content
  3. Engaging in emotive topics
  4. Campaigning or political activity on social media
  5. Fundraising on social media
  6. Staying safe online

The rest of this article looks at the key elements of the Charity Commission’s social media policy guidance and how you can apply it to your charity.

What are charities responsible for when using social media?

If a charity uses social media, the charity’s trustees are responsible for:

  • agreeing and putting a social media policy in place so that they have internal controls that are appropriate and proportionate for your charity’s needs and which are clear to everyone at the team members using social media
  • ensuring their social media policy is regularly reviewed to check it is working effectively and fits the charity’s needs
  • ensuring the charity’s social media use helps to achieve the charity’s purpose in a way that is in its best interests
  • complying with relevant laws
  • ensuring any campaigning or political activity that the charity does on social media complies with the rules
  • ensuring the processes help keep people safe online, including any extra considerations when dealing with vulnerable users

Improving trustees’ understanding of social media and setting a comprehensive social media policy are two ways that a charity can improve its governance of social media.

How can charities improve their trustees’ understanding of social media?

Some trustees may not use social media regularly, or at all, and want to improve their social media knowledge and skills. 

The government provides a collection of online resources and events to help improve social media literacy and keep people safe online. 

A number of organisations provide resources to help improve social media skills. For example, the Media Trust provides a resource hub which includes free guides and toolkits.

Charity social media policy checklist

The Charity Commission guidance explains the importance of having a social media policy.They have also provided a checklist to help charities develop one or to check against their existing ones.

There are other social media policy templates available, such as this one from CharityComms.

Whichever template you use, charities should set a regular review date for their social media policy and should also check it is working effectively after any significant incident.

Need help developing your social media policy? Contact Empower to find out how Empower’s team of social media experts can help your charity.

Here are some things to consider when putting together a social media policy, according to the Charity Commission:

How your charity will use social media

  • What your objectives are in using social media 
  • What platforms you will use
  • Whether you will create private community groups or host discussion forums. If you will, how you will moderate these groups or forums
  • What your policy is on moderating third-party content, what comments you will respond to and how, and what comments you will like or reshare

Your oversight and controls around who uses social media on your charity’s behalf

  • How you manage access to your charity’s social media accounts and social media security
  • Who can post day-to-day content, and about what. For example, routine announcements of the charity’s work
  • When additional approval is needed, and who is involved. For example, high-profile announcements or dealing with a social media crisis 
  • Who is responsible for reviewing and moderating content and how often 
  • Who can delete content, and in what circumstances

Required conduct for those managing the account

  • Your rules including compliance with relevant laws and any codes of conduct
  • Your rules around managing interactions with children and young people and/or with vulnerable people 
  • How you will ensure your staff and volunteers have the skills and knowledge to use social media appropriately
  • How you will check the policy is being followed and act if it is breached

Relationship to other policies

  • How this policy interacts with your policies and processes on safeguarding, risk, whistleblowing and HR
  • The charity’s guidelines on personal social media use by trustees, employees or volunteers 

Responding to incidents

  • Who can amend or delete content, and in what circumstances
  • When you and/or your senior staff need to be involved  
  • When issues need to be reported to the full trustee board
  • If, when and how you will respond to complaints or criticism on social media
  • What to do if you receive abusive messages including how you will support trustees, staff and volunteers if they are the subject of online abuse 
  • What you will do in the event of a social media crisis, for example, have a communications plan and stop any scheduled posts or sharing content from third parties
  • Checking if you need to report a serious incident to the Commission or make reports to the police or other regulators

Further Reading: Charities and Social Media Policy

Need more help with developing a social media policy for your charity? Take a look at these articles for more information.

Leave a Comment