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Three Reasons Why the FIA Guidelines on Social Media Should be Changed


Tuesday, 4th September 2012 at 10:13 am
Staff Reporter
Social media marketer, Richenda Vermeulen and lawyer, Leanne O’Donnell have called on the Fundraising Institute of Australia to revise some of its Social Media Fundraising Guidelines.


Tuesday, 4th September 2012
at 10:13 am
Staff Reporter


5 Comments


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Three Reasons Why the FIA Guidelines on Social Media Should be Changed
Tuesday, 4th September 2012 at 10:13 am

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OPINION: Social media marketer, Richenda Vermeulen and lawyer, Leanne O’Donnell have called on the Fundraising Institute of Australia to revise some aspects of its Social Media Fundraising Guidelines.

Here’s their take on the Guidelines.

The Fundraising Institute of Australia, the peak body representing professional fundraising in Australia, recently released a new Social Media Standard. All members must abide by this Standard. The Standard is based on the solid values of Transparency, Accountability and Respect, which is right on the mark.

The FIA should be applauded for proactively encouraging charities to use social media responsibly, however, we’re concerned with some of the guidelines and advice. We’ve reached out to the FIA, and understand there are no plans to revise the Standard.

Here’s three reasons why we think the guidelines need to be changed.

1. The Standard doesn’t demonstrate an understanding of social media

The Standard uses the phrase “social media site”. (This term is not defined.) In our view, the obligations in the Standard are more appropriate to a Not for Profit’s website, not its use of social media.

Social media is diverse, dynamic, community and collaborative. Facebook pages, Twitter, YouTube comments, and blogs have different rules of engagement. Some social media can be moderated. On others, like Twitter, a brand has no control what is said about them. The Standard does not seem to acknowledge or consider this reality.

The guidelines focus on restrictions and control. At no point do the guidelines talk about social media engagement and dialogue with donors, the most powerful tool in the social fundraising tool kit.

2. The Standard is impractical

  • 4.1 “Organisation must provide the following information on the Social Media Site: how Donations are to be collected, general information about security measures used to protect collection of funds, how Donations are receipted, how the Donors’ identity is protected from publication on the Social Media Site"

Including this type of detailed information on an organisation’s Facebook or YouTube page is impractical. On Twitter, where you get 140 characters for your bio, it’s impossible to comply with these guidelines. Social Media pages are not the appropriate place for these sort of technical details.

Not for Profits should be transparent about fundraising and provide this information on their websites in a prominent, clear and accessible manner. When engaging in public dialogue about donations, they should provide links to more details hosted on their website. Links to official websites should be included on organisation’s official social media channels such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

3. The Standard includes guidelines that ignore engagement and building an informed community

  • 5.1 "The Fundraiser or the Organisation will promptly remove comments about the Organisation or Event or other activities of the Organisation if the Organisation considers the comments are likely in any way to be misleading or deceptive or damaging to the reputation of the Organisation …"

The requirement to delete comments that are damaging to the reputation of the organisation may in some cases be damaging to a charity’s reputation. Social media is a public domain. As we’ve seen from recent high profile incidents, censoring or deleting criticisms is often the worst way to respond. In most cases, the proper way to respond to misleading comments is to engage and, politely but firmly, correct misinformation and, where possible, link to more detailed information on your website.

For example, if someone posts on your Facebook page that your organisation’s overhead rate is 50 per cent (that is, 50 cents of the donor’s dollar), the best way to respond is with the correct information and a link to a transparency report on your website. Simply deleting the misinformation, as the FIA Standard requires its members to do, may lead the public to believe the statement was right and that the charity has something to hide.

Deleting or censoring comments is a last resort, and should only be done if comments are obscene, threatening or abusive or otherwise may lead to a breach of the law — such was discussed in our recent post ‘Facebook rulings affect non profits’.

Here are a few revisions we encourage the FIA to incorporate in their Standard:

o Deal with incorrect information, complaints or criticisms by responding in a timely fashion.

If people make false claims, address them directly, using accessible language within a 24 hour period. Create a “FAQ” section on your website to address common complaints or criticisms and use this as a resource when engaging in conversation online. For more detailed tips on moderation see this blog post.

o Be human. 

The beauty in social media is that it empowers donors to connect with organisations. Be kind, honest, and approachable on your social media presences. Speak to your audience as if you were speaking to someone directly. Not as a press release. Share interesting content, encourage dialogue, and be open to feedback.


o Choose great staff and empower them. Social media staff represent who you are as an organisation.

They are your public voice. When choosing who is most suited to moderation, ensure staff know your organisation well and are accustomed to answering difficult conversations. If they are new to social media, arrange for mentoring or training from an experienced social media manager

o Be aware of your legal obligations.

There are legal obligations to moderate social media communities. The laws which apply to publishing on your website also apply to social media – such as copyright, defamation, privacy laws, consumer protection and fundraising laws. The Fitzroy Legal Service publishes the Law Handbook, a free and practical online guide to the law in Victoria.

PILCHConnect is a specialist legal centre for community organisations and publishes a range of useful resources including on fundraising. If you are unsure about the range of laws that might apply to social media and fundraising or how these laws might apply to your organisation, seek expert legal advice.

Social media offers tremendous opportunities for charities to acquire new donors and retain current donors. However, going about social media in the wrong way can risk these relationships and the reputation of your organisation. Still, it’s important not to allow fear to rule your strategy. If you are unsure how to proceed, seek social media mentoring from an experienced social media manager.

What are your thoughts on the FIA social media standards?

Richenda Vermeulen, Director of ntegrity is on twitter at: @RichendaG and email richenda@ntegrity.com.au

Leanne O’Donnell, is a Melbourne lawyer on twitter at: @MsLods



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5 Comments

  • Tania Cavaiuolo Tania Cavaiuolo says:

    Good observations by the authors, particularly on post deletion. Public criticism may be hard to read, it is also a gift. It allows organisations to correct misconceptions or gather insight that it can use to improve. In my view, preparedness to handle criticism and complaint is Social Media 101.

  • Anonymous Anonymous says:

    If this is what FIA have developed they are seriously out of touch!

    PS: You probably “promptly remove” this post!

  • Anonymous Anonymous says:

    The FIA’s guidelines are pretty good… except their mandate to delete comments. I imagine they didn’t consult with a community manager or PR before signing off on these.

  • Anonymous Anonymous says:

    These guidelines are poorly designed and impractical in their strictest interpretation. They reflect a poor level of understanding of the unique characteristics of social media. There are work arounds that fundraisers will utilise to avoid being hamstrung by this framework. In many instances it may be as simple as a link directing people to information within a main website.

    The greater risk is that as more fundraising moves into the online space, fundraisers may be forced to operate outside of the FIA’s own guidelines, some may elect to leave the FIA and other, new fundraisers, especially those utilising the online space may never become members.

  • The FIA guidelines sadly don’t get off to a good start as they don’t endear themselves to the audience by the way they are using legislative language instead of speaking as guidelines.

    While the intent of the FIA is good in wanting to emphasis that their existing mandates for Transparency, Accountability and Respect are maintained in the ‘new arena’ of the social media conversation, they don’t appear to understand how Social Media operates or use current terms of reference.

    Even going back to the FIA website where the guidelines are announced, there is no explanation of how they were created, who was involved and what consultation took place.

    Hopefully the key concerns can be addressed and a set of guidelines useful to a fund raiser or community manager can be constructed in plain English.

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