Published: 11 August 2015

How to engage your trustees with social media

Charity trustee boards don’t always see social media as an essential communications tool.

That can be frustrating for comms teams, as having a social media policy at board level improves an organisation’s governance as well as the wider mission.

The use of social media in organisations over the last few years has grown dramatically among charity staff and trustees, according to Onboard’s latest report Governing with Intent.

But even with this growth, social media is not high on the boardroom agenda. According to the latest FT-ICSA Boardroom Bellwether survey, 34% of boards have not discussed a social media policy (July 2015) and 26% describe it as unimportant.

Consequently, charity boards are lagging behind their social media and communications managers in their attitude to digital technology and are not placing new technology at the forefront of their thinking.

How should boards engage in digital communications?

As a communications professional, it's important to keep the board informed of new comms channels that are being used and the benefits and risks that come with them. Here are five key things you can suggest to help your board understand digital communications better.

1. Use as a source of feedback for the organisation

Boards should explore the possibilities of the digital agenda and its development for the organisation. Social media can be used for feedback from users and beneficiaries. Reports of feedback should be given to the board as this is an important tool to monitor performance, inform strategic planning and increase the quality and impact of services.

Social media is also a place where trustees can gauge how their organisation is being perceived and have evidence of the ‘external and internal’ images.

2. Introduce a board portal

To increase engagement with digital tools and to improve efficient governance, trustees should consider using a board portal. The portal would integrate email, online calendars and document management software. The Onboard Wired to Govern poll showed LinkedIn groups being set up for board members to communicate between board meetings.

3. Understand how to manage risk

Trustees should explore with communications teams what they can do to manage risk. It's important that they protect their data, staff and service users from cyber issues such as malware, phishing scams, email attacks, hackers and trolls.

They also need to ensure that financial controls provide sufficient security for online giving, and due diligence procedures are carried out before third parties are hired to manage online donations. Mobile phone and tablets used by charity staff are increasingly at risk from criminal attack.

The Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) trend weakens the security of data. Charity staff and trustees may consider moving to a Choose Your Own Device (CYOD) regime that consciously limits the number of devices that have access to data systems. Investing in anti-theft software is highly recommended.

4. Provide support to young trustees

Boards need to be able to attract young trustees and support them in the appropriate use of a multi-media approach. Younger trustees or advisory boards will have a different approach to social media and should be supported by both the social media managers and board.

5. Introduce clear procedures

Boards must monitor the different platforms the organisation uses. Whether using Twitter, LinkedIn, Google chatrooms, Facebook or any of the many platforms out there, boards need to ensure there are sufficient procedures, processes and policies in place to guide their use. Charity communications teams and social media managers should ensure trustees receive adequate training to be able to do this effectively.


Tesse Akpeki, senior consultant, Onboard

Tesse Akpeki is a senior consultant at Onboard, a brand of Bates Wells Braithwaite and a consultancy offering governance development, training and support to charities. Tesse specialises in governance development and leadership by working with boards, senior management teams and chief executives to strengthen their effectiveness and performance.