Regulator publishes new guidance on charities’ social media use

The Charity Commission has issued new guidance on charities’ use of social media.

Published today (18 September 2023), the guidance makes clear that social media can be a highly effective way for a charity to engage its audiences and communicate about its work but that there are risks involved, which trustees should plan for.

The new guidance is clear that charities using social media should have a social media policy in place and should ensure the policy is followed. This is standard practice in many charities and across other sectors and industries, and can help an organisation avoid problems and address issues swiftly if they occur.

The regulator says its casework has revealed a knowledge gap. Trustees are not always aware of the risks that may arise from using social media, meaning that some do not have sufficient oversight of their charity’s activity, leaving them and their charity vulnerable. The guidance aims to help trustees understand these risks, how their legal duties apply, and what to consider if issues arise.

The guidance:

  • makes clear that the regulator does not expect that every charity will involve trustees in the day-to-day running of the charity’s social media but that trustees must understand their legal responsibilities even if delegating tasks
  • sets out the expectation that charities using social media should have a policy in place to explain how using social media will help deliver the charity’s purpose and should include the charity’s own guidelines, such as those on the conduct of trustees, employees and volunteers using social media on the charity’s behalf
  • contains an easy-to-use checklist to help trustees and senior employees have informed conversations on what the right policy for them looks like
  • says charities should have guidelines to manage the risk that content posted by individuals connected to the charity in their personal capacity, particularly those who are high profile like CEOs, may negatively impact the charity by association. It also makes clear that trustees, employees and others have the right to exercise their freedom of expression within the law
  • signposts organisations and resources that can help trustees if they want to improve their social media skills.

The new guidance was subject to a formal consultation, which ran from January to March 2023. The Commission received 396 responses. Many welcomed the guidance, but some felt it could be clearer to explain what is and is not expected of trustees. The regulator has made a number of changes to clarify the Commission’s regulatory expectations in light of the feedback. The final guidance also further emphasises the benefits of using social media, so that charities can have confidence in their ability to make use of them.

Paul Latham, Director of Communications and Policy at the Charity Commission, said:

“There are many benefits to using social media, which can be an effective tool for campaigning, communicating with the public and reaching new and existing supporters. However, trustees need to be alive to the risks it can generate, including to a charity’s reputation. We have published this guidance because we want trustees to think carefully about what they want to achieve when using social media and then apply our guidance to help ensure their charity is protected.”

He added:

“We know trustees are busy and don’t expect them to be social media experts. Our guidance is also clear that their oversight need only be proportionate. However, it is the duty of trustees to act responsibly, in their charity’s best interests, and in line with the law. This includes when posting online. Our guidance will help charities to navigate their use of social media with greater confidence and will support the Commission to regulate this high profile and fast paced area in a fair and balanced way.”

The guidance can be read in full on the Charity Commission’s page, alongside our consultation response.

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