Is it necessary for a non-profit to have a formal policy regarding social media? The short answer is yes. How about if the non-profit only has three employees who all know the rules? The answer is still yes. Here's why- non-profits have volunteers, and those volunteers can only follow the rules if they know what the rules are. Plus, those three employees may know the rules, but unless the rules are in writing, there is no recourse for the agency should a problem/question arise.
Your organization's online presence is every bit a part of your marketing and promotion as is your brochure, albeit to a potentially different audience. You may use more informal words to tell a story, share about your mission, or give information on an upcoming event, but it is still important that what you say is in line with the communication standards of your organization.
For example, does your organization always print its name in a certain way? Maybe you ALWAYS spell out your org’s name and then put your acronym in parentheses after it. If you want consistency in your message, include these type of guidelines in your Social Media Policy (or simply have your Social Media Policy reference your Brand Standards).
A big part of social media policies is giving guidelines about what is acceptable to write. For example, your policy should likely state that any staff member or volunteer that is posting on behalf of the agency must refrain from stating personal opinions, political feelings, or anything negative or derogatory. It should also define who is authorized to use social media on behalf of your agency (there is a big difference in a volunteering commenting on one of the agencies posts as themselves, than having that same volunteer post on behalf of the agency).
Social media policies should also, if appropriate for your non-profit industry, define who may be contacted, or “friended”, on behalf of the agency, or by employees of the agency. An example of this would be a private school; most policies will state that teachers and staff may not “friend” anyone under 18 years of age. Similarly, if you have a “do not photo” list of children or clients that have not signed a photo release form, make sure your policy mentions the existence of the list and states how to obtain a copy.
Some large organizations will have a department that sets these rules for the whole agency. Smaller non-profits may want to run their thoughts by a lawyer on their board to get an idea for what areas should be covered, which should be avoided, and what areas leave the agency open for potential areas of concern.
Many national agencies, such as the American Red Cross, have Social Media departments who set policy, and they are often willing to share their policies with other non-profits if asked. So if you are looking for examples, check with your non-profit peers. Evaluating a few non-profits’ policies is a good way to measure the content of your own.
Originally posted on Tracy's blog, Fundraising: It isn't all about the Benjamin's in 2012.