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Charity Boards Must Be Social Media Savvy - Report

17 July 2014 at 11:54 am
Lina Caneva
Australian charity boards need to significantly increase their understanding of social media in order to manage organisational opportunities, risks, funding and strategic goals, according to a new report.

Lina Caneva | 17 July 2014 at 11:54 am


Charity Boards Must Be Social Media Savvy - Report
17 July 2014 at 11:54 am

Australian charity boards need to significantly increase their understanding of social media in order to manage organisational opportunities, risks, funding and strategic goals, according to a new report.

The report from business advisory firm Grant Thornton, Growing communities: How charity leaders govern social media globally to thrive online, interviewed charity Chief Executives on the use of social media.

The report features interviews with charities in Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the UK and US, and reveals a need for greater board-level understanding of social media.

“Many charities admit that there is a lack of understanding of social media at board level,”  Grant Thornton Australia Partner and Not for Profit Specialist Simon Hancox said.

“From some of the CEOs interviewed it appears that many charity Boards are still scared of social media and its risks, and often those at the highest level are not aware of what it can achieve.

“Boards often see social media as a funding and communications tool rather than the more strategic uses for social media.

“Understanding how to govern social media’s use, leverage its opportunities and manage its risks, is vital. Improving knowledge at senior levels is also important to understanding impact and effectiveness.

“Just as with any other communication channel, the board cannot become involved in every operational matter. In setting a framework for governance, they have to understand what social media is and its capabilities.

“Innovative charity boards are providing new ways to reach strategic objectives by incorporating social media into its core strategy to capitalise on the interactive opportunity to engage with new communities.

“Pioneering charity boards within the report demonstrate the value in adopting governance and operational support for its social media strategies.

“Without an informed social media strategy – and the internal governance and operations to support it – funding may erode,” Hancox said.

Hancox said the report has also highlighted the need for education for boards where often the issue is a generational thing around the use of technology.

“Also there is an intergenerational change where there is a need to engage new stakeholders and a need to review the way to do this,” he said.

“For charities to embrace social media there needs to be education leveraged at the board level so that members can see what they can achieve with social media.”

The report uses a number of examples from ‘pioneering’ charities in Australia and New Zealand.

Chief Executive Officer at YMCA Victoria, Peter Burns, said in the report that social media broke down the capacity for people to be siloed.

“Our closed Facebook group lets 900 staff share what they’re doing and board members can congratulate people directly. It flattens the organisation beautifully,” he said.

“Social media can be used internally as a tool that improves the organisation as well as helping beneficiaries by improving workflow, efficiency and sharing.

“Every one of our board is on social media. Everyone actively engages on Facebook, Yammer and LinkedIn, and many on Twitter. I’m actively involved in each.”

The report said the same had happened in charities such as Scope in the UK, where social media had been embraced internally where 150 digital champions have been trained across all departments, who project the personality of the charity 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,” according to Chief Executive Officer of Scope, Richard Hawkes.

“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.”

The report concludes that risks will always be present on social media but they are outweighed by the opportunities it offers.

“Engaging with social media at board and senior management level will help to avoid mistakes and minimise the risks that are ever present.

“Understanding the risks strategically rather than expecting operational involvement from the board is the best way forward,” the report said.


Lina Caneva  |  Editor  |  @ProBonoNews

Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years. She was the editor of Pro Bono Australia News from when it was founded in 2000 until 2018.

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