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Not for profit

Better social media strategies for charities

Carol Rudge

Carol Rudge reveals the social media strategies of successful charities


When it comes to charities and the not for profit sector, social media has often outpaced organisational change. Social media has huge potential to deliver services, foster internal values and sharing, and achieve strategic goals beyond communications. Not all charities are taking full advantage, but they can achieve fantastic results with a little investment and guidance.

While creating our latest report, ‘Growing communities: How charity leaders govern social media to thrive online’ , we spoke with charities that are using social media strategically to go far beyond the traditional perceptions of it being a mere communications tool.

We saw four very interesting areas where social media strategy feeds in to broader charity strategy. It can open up new, non-traditional funding streams; target harder-to-reach beneficiaries; boost collaborative approaches to service delivery and act as a transparent, accountable, accessible face for the charity.

Aside from these, social media can also change the fabric of the organisation for the better. High-performing charities focus on their internal culture to achieve strategic change. Social media can be used internally as a tool that improves the organisation as well as helping beneficiaries, improving workflow, efficiency and sharing.

This can be seen clearly at charities such as Scope  in the UK, where social media has been embraced internally: 150 digital champions have been trained across all departments, who project the personality of the charity on to their digital channels. “If you’re going to have a real culture change then it has to come from the organisation doing things differently,” Richard Hawkes , chief executive officer of Scope told us. “It comes back to a culture of support from the leadership team. Without that buy-in from the start it’s difficult to achieve that cultural change.”

Other charities, such as the YMCA  in Victoria, Australia, have a focus on internal social media. Grant Thornton UK, I’m happy to say, have joined them, launching an internal social network in April 2014. This platform enriches collaboration and sharing across the firm, supporting our wider social media strategy and providing a ‘sandbox environment’ for people to try things like blogging and status updates in a safe setting.

Be aware that technology may outpace the rate of change in your organisation. Setting strategy early means you will have rules to apply to unexpected situations.

A March 2014 survey of charities in the US and Canada by software company Bloomerang found that of 9,000 small to medium-sized charities, 67% had no social media strategy, policies or goals documented. Policies give staff reassurance: just knowing they exist sets an agenda for the organisation.

Social media has to be linked to a broader risk management strategy from the start. The key risk factors, plans for reacting to breaches and notifying relevant team members have to be built into strategy.

Social media can boost transparency and accountability through publishing online, offering public access to senior staff and enhancing internal communications. Objectives such as driving donors to income streams, encouraging successful peer-to-peer fundraising, and delivering services over the internet – these objectives can all be reached more easily if there is board-level engagement.

is Partner and head of Not for Profit, Grant Thornton UK and Global leader – Not for Profit