Social Media & Governance: Using It to Advance Your Mission

Social media and governance: Does one have anything to do with the other? Yes!

Has your board discussed how social media impacts its roles and responsibilities and your organization? No? While social media is far from being a new conversation topic, few nonprofit boards have seen the connection between it and governance.

In reality, there are ways that your board can — and in some cases, should — engage with social media.

Your board members can

  • serve as organizational champions
  • volunteer management and expertise
  • help develop policy related to your organization’s use

Be a champion

One of a board’s responsibilities is to make sure the organization is leveraging its networks to advance its mission. Social media is an important tool in accessing these networks. And while we all know that its great elements come with a few that just plain stink, it is no longer a matter of if an organization uses social media, but how it uses it. Yet one of the biggest complaints I hear from nonprofit staffers is that they can’t get their board to invest in social media for the organization. Here’s your opportunity! Being a social media champion means ensuring that it is on your organization’s radar and that it is integrated into all of your plans.

To begin with, your board needs to ensure that your organization has the knowledge and financial and human resources it needs to use social media to advance its mission. Is your organization budgeting for training, consultation, and implementation? It’s the board’s responsibility to ask that question. Ideally, every organization would either share social media responsibilities across the organization or hire a staff person with this expertise to plan, implement, and evaluate effectiveness.

No matter where your organization is on the social media continuum, there are resources that can help it progress to the next stage. If you’re just starting to use this form of communication, it’s important to familiarize board and staff with the landscape and best practices. There is a complex web of options for social media platforms and strategies for each. Suggest that your organization invest in an in-service training for staff or make arrangements for them to attend outside trainings, and consider a board development activity around it. Consultants are another great resource, as they can provide a comprehensive approach to social media usage from training to planning to policy creation. A consultant will be able to help your organization identify platforms, develop strategies, and measure the effectiveness of its efforts.

Advocating for resources and board support are great ways to get your feet wet as a social media champion.

Volunteer your time

Board members wear a variety of hats. When board members are in board meetings, they wear their governance hats, but there are opportunities outside those meetings to don another cap and volunteer for the organization. This is when the organizational chart gets flipped, and board members report to staff!

Participating in social media management is one of those activities that board members can help with as a volunteer for the organization. Board members with expertise in using social media as part of marketing, fundraising, and/or program development can support the organization by

  • leading or participating in a marketing committee
  • training staff and fellow board members
  • identifying a strong trainer to educate staff and board members
  • researching resources for improved social media use (i.e. blogs, publications, webinars)
  • providing an assessment of existing practices
  • collaborating with staff on developing a strategy and plan for the organization
  • helping implement social media activities
  • recording metrics for social media measurement
  • helping research, draft, and/or review internal and external policies

Board members interested in offering volunteer time in these areas should work closely with staff to determine the needs of the organization and how they best fit those needs.

Develop policies

Given the interactivity of social media, every nonprofit that uses it should have policies that pertain to it. Why? Because they provide a type of “insurance” — internally and externally. They provide guidelines and boundaries and set professional standards and best practices for staff, volunteers, and other stakeholders. While violations are rare, your organization will be happy it has a policy to fall back on if and when boundaries are crossed. Staff generally drafts and implements social media policies but the board should ensure that they exist and that they cover the critical elements.

An internal policy provides direction for all staff and organizational volunteers, including board members — whether it is their responsibility to use social media on behalf of the organization or not. The simple fact is: All staff and volunteers represent the organization in some way or another. An internal policy indicates what content is appropriate and inappropriate to share on behalf of the organization as well as what is appropriate or inappropriate to share on a personal platform, such as a blog. An internal policy should include consequences for violation of the policy as well as an explanation for why it is in place. Along with your social media plans, it should be shared at board and staff orientations and be included in employee handbooks and board materials.

Without established boundaries, your staff and volunteers will be left guessing what is and what isn’t appropriate to share when using social media. Providing them with best practices in representing the organization will set you up for success and help you develop great ambassadors for your mission.

An external policy addresses users outside the organization. In other words, this policy is for those who participate in social media interactions with your organization, such as those who leave a comment on your LinkedIn page or your blog. Similar to an internal policy, this policy should outline what is appropriate and inappropriate for sharing and the consequences of violating the policy. At a minimum, on any platform, you should state that your organization reserves the right to ask a participant to leave the conversation for inappropriate language. Whatever your policy, share it publicly on your organizational website and refer to it regularly on your other platforms.

Researching sample policies is as easy as using your search engine but keep in mind that policy creation and implementation are as much art as they are science. There is only so much that these policies can protect or account for. Some amount of flexibility is needed for unanticipated situations and you will need to adapt your policies as new platforms appear.

Use social media to be an organizational ambassador

Once your organization has an internal policy in place, board members should think about the ways that they can use their personal social media to share the story of the organization with their personal and professional networks.

If the organization has a Facebook page, you should be a fan. If your organization has a Twitter page, you should be a follower. (Assuming you have accounts on these sites, of course.) Facebook shares and Twitter retweets may seem like insignificant contributions (or even the dreaded ‘slactivism’), but they can be fun and easy ways to help your organization tell its story and can possibly help people in your network find a volunteer or donation opportunity. And should you be new to or hesitant about fundraising, you may find that talking about your organization on social media makes fundraising conversations easier.


201 Resource | Last updated: June 9, 2016

Resource: Generate Buzz! Strategic Communication for Nonprofit Boards