How social media can help charity leaders in an uncertain world

With the Brexit vote rocking the boat and trust in the voluntary sector sinking, how can charity leaders use social media to tackle the challenges?

Charity leaders face a unique set of challenges. Brexit means they will be operating in a volatile climate in the years ahead. And public trust in charities has fallen, with donors citing negative press stories and a lack of knowledge and confidence in how donations are spent. So what can charity leaders do? What can they control in a world of uncertainties?

Leaders must use every instrument at their disposal to navigate the uncharted waters ahead. Social media can help them achieve many of their goals, whether it’s managing reputation, strengthening relationships with government or recognising fundraisers. We’re inviting nominations for the Top 30 Charity CEOs on Social Media Awards. Now in their fourth year, the awards reached 2.6 million people on Twitter in 2015, with chief executives Peter Wanless of the NSPCC, Jan Tregelles of Mencap and Frances Crook of the Howard League for Penal Reform among the winners.

We want to recognise other charity leaders who are excelling on social media, so we are offering four individual awards including best trustee, best senior leader, best rising star and – new this year – leader with the most innovative social media presence. For the first time, we will also be announcing an overall winner from the top 30. Nominations are open to leaders of any registered charity, of whatever size or cause. We’re keen to encourage a diverse range of applications.

So how could charity leaders use social media to tackle the challenges posed by Brexit?

Creative approaches to fundraising

Sector umbrella body NCVO has warned that Brexit may result in reduced income for the sector. When money is tight, creativity is everything. Paul Reddish, chief executive of volunteering charity Project Scotland, put on a tutu and filmed a series of dance moves for the charity’s #GivingTuesday 2015 campaign. He raised £790 to help young people and gained positive press coverage.

Thanks @JustGiving @stripe! £790 of #GivingTuesday donations arrived safely. #TwinkleToesCEO

— ProjectScotland (@ProjectScotland) December 2, 2015

Front page of the Scotsman. Retweeted by Diversity ( who appreciate a good fellow dance act when they see it ). Nailed it. #twinkletoesceo

— Paul Reddish (@paul_reddish) December 1, 2015

Meeting with the team at @BankofAmerica just now. They are great supporters of @Street_League in many ways. Thank you. #MovingIntoWork

— Matt Stevenson-Dodd (@Matt_SD) August 17, 2016

Social media is also an excellent way for leaders to recognise corporate supporters and get their charity’s brand seen alongside.

Leadership and expertise

In uncertain times, people are hungry for answers. Charity leaders have the knowledge – and the platform – to provide this. As Simon Blake, our chair of judges, says: “Facts delivered in a personable manner by a senior leader can cut through in a unique way, adding value to other organisational communications.”

"Brexit isn't an excuse to give up on the refugee crisis" me for @HuffPostUK @RefugeeAction all at #refugeesummit

— Stephen Hale (@SHaleGeneva) July 8, 2016

Disappointing that @MoJGovUK predicts tiny drop in remands, yet 70% remanded by JPs don't merit prison sentence

— Frances Crook (@francescrook) August 25, 2016

Asking thought-provoking questions is powerful and, over time, will reinforce the chief executive and their charity’s status as thought leaders.

Everyone knows doctors, patients & hospitals are #NotATarget . So why are repeated attacks accepted by World Leaders

— Stephen Cornish (@Stephen_Cornish) August 24, 2016

Bringing communities together

Brexit revealed how disenfranchised many people across the UK feel. As sector lawyers Bates Wells Braithwaite say in a Brexit briefing, charities have the power to bring people together in the communities in which they work. Who is better placed to connect with people in difficult situations who may be hard to reach?

Deborah Alsina, chief executive of Bowel Cancer UK, uses social media to offer support to patients, which in turn raises awareness of her charity’s cause. She also uses these channels to liaise with stakeholders across the health service. And during a period when things are liable to change rapidly, such interactions offer insights for chief executives into what’s happening in real time. Alsina says: “I’ve found Twitter an incredibly helpful channel to engage and build relationships with a diverse range of stakeholders, from patients, to supporters to clinicians. It gives me the opportunity to hear a range of views and opinions and of particular importance to me to gain insight into the experiences of those closely affected by bowel cancer.”

@alialifarn @GemmieJo84 when's your next appointment Alison?

— Deborah Alsina (@DeborahAlsina) August 2, 2016

@DeborahAlsina @GemmieJo84 it's the actual op next Tuesday. ..eek!!

— Alison Farncombe (@alialifarn) August 2, 2016

@alialifarn @GemmieJo84 oh good luck with that Alison. Everything crossed it goes well. X

— Deborah Alsina (@DeborahAlsina) August 2, 2016

Increased scrutiny

Brexit means seismic change, but the Charity Commission’s research shows that donors are still keen to know how charities work and what they are funding. As a leader, there will be natural curiosity about what you do. Use social media to invite them in. It’s a good way to pre-empt scrutiny, demonstrate the good work you are doing every day, and highlight how you are collaborating with others. By making what happens behind closed doors visible, chief executives can help critical relationships develop more quickly and show how committed they are to transparency.

Great to discuss common agendas for @intaward, @cyfpage and @UKinNigeria with @PaulTArkwright today.

— John May (@johnccmay) August 22, 2016

Charity leaders can also use social media to tell people about their charity’s impact and how proud they are of its work.

Nice write up on the work we have supported in NHS on ensuring accessible information for disabled people

— Paul Breckell (@pbreckell) August 3, 2016

While Brexit may feel daunting, the fact is that where there is change, there is opportunity. Social media is a fantastic way for charity leaders to show what they and the organisations they run are worth.

Nominations can be made here. Nominees will be judged by a panel of voluntary sector leaders and the results will be announced on Friday 18 November. All entries must be received by midnight on Friday 30 September.

The Guardian Voluntary Sector Network is a media partner for the awards.

For more news, opinions and ideas about the voluntary sector, join our community - it’s free!


Zoe Amar

The GuardianTramp

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