10 Issues to Address in Your Nonprofit’s Social Media Policy


Social Media Icons

  1. Copyright and trademark infringement.  Tip: understand the fair use doctrine.  Trap: expecting attribution to offer protection against charges of infringement.
  2. Fundraising and foreign state registration requirements. Tip: check out The Unified Registration Statement.  Trap: disregarding registration laws and their application to funds raised through social media (see the Charleston Principles).
  3. Events and foreign state qualifications to do business.  Tip: think about whether you are responsible for an event organized through your social media channels and whether it triggers the need to qualify to do business in a foreign state (see Make it Your Business to Know if Your Corporation is "Doing Business").  Trap: organizing an event then claiming it's not your responsibility.
  4. Volunteers (and agents of the nonprofit) or independent supporters.  Tip: recognize that the more you control individuals, the more likely they are your agents and the more likely you're responsible for them.  Trap: instructing people to act in the nonprofit's name and not providing any rules or limits to their authority.
  5. Supervision of agents of the nonprofit (authorized communications, confidentiality issues, harassment/discrimination, defamation, bullying, privacy).  Tip: provide written rules and guidelines to make clear what is and is not acceptable in an agent's use of social media (whether the agent is an employee or a volunteer).  Trap: relying on an agent's common sense to avoid violating any laws.
  6. Advocacy and rules regarding lobbying and political activities (for agents of the nonprofit and users of the nonprofit's social media and communication platforms).  Tip: check out the Alliance for Justice/Bolder Advocacy for resources – you may be able to do much more in this area than you think.  Trap: liking political candidates and publishing unsolicited comments with political messages on a moderated site - digital advocacy offers particular challenges.
  7. Collaborations with other organizations and partnership/joint venture issues.  Tip: make sure you recognize whether you want your obligations to one another to be enforceable.  Trap: inadvertently creating a partnership in which each partner may be completely liable for harm created by the other partner.
  8. Ownership of social media accounts.  Tip: state in writing who owns social media accounts identified by individual and organization (e.g., Gene@NEO).  Trap: claiming ownership of a social media account in which the individual was given no rules or terms of use to freely publish anything of personal interest.
  9. Employee use of social media and protected activities.  Tip: know that certain uses of social media to complain about management and the board may be protected from retaliation – see Emily Chan's article in The Nonprofit Quarterly: “I Thought We Were Friends!” Can Nonprofits Terminate Employees for Their Social Media Posts?  Trap: adopting overbroad policies that restrain employees from exercising their rights to engage in concerted activities for mutual aid or protection.
  10. Violations of policies.  Tip: develop internal and external response strategies for violations of policies.  Trap: failing to respond in a timely manner (e.g., The Accidental Rebranding of Komen for the CureKivi Leroux Miller)


Recommended Resource: 

Social Media For Nonprofits - Slideshare channel (175 presentations and counting)