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How to be a social media savvy trustee

Boards are increasingly concerned about the role they should play on social media.

While trustees shouldn’t get involved in managing their charity’s social media from day to day, they’re ultimately responsible for the digital strategy and any successes or failures that result from it.

As with everything their charity does, trustees need to understand how social media contributes to the delivery of their charitable purpose or mission, and make sure that resources are being used efficiently.

What do trustees need to know?

Social media is a vast topic and boards often struggle to assess what they need to know, understand what they don’t know, get to grips with how their charity benchmarks against others and develop confidence in what they can challenge their digital team on.

Developed as part of the free Charity Social Media Toolkit, this is a checklist of nine of the most important things all trustees should know and do in relation to social media.


Don’t get involved in day-to-day social media – make sure it’s properly delegated

While trustees are ultimately responsible for the strategy, they don’t need to get involved in day-to-day running of social media. However, as with anything that is delegated, the digital team should know what is expected of them, what authority they have to act and what the relevant policies and procedures are.

Does the charity have a social media policy and does everyone know what to do in the event of a social media crisis? How should areas of risk be managed on social media? Charities can then respond quickly to events in a way that is consistent with good governance.

Guidance for NCVO members on writing a social media policy


Develop your own social media presence and promote your charity

It should be a requirement of trustees to promote their charities on social media. This could be as simple as adding their trustee role to their LinkedIn profile or tweeting about key campaigns and how proud they are to be involved with their charity.

Of course, trustees must comply with the social media policy and be clear on what they can and can’t do on these channels. This may sound like common sense, but charities can get into difficulties if a trustee makes controversial comments on social media.


Follow relevant people on social media

Most trustees have to juggle a portfolio of commitments and, most likely, a busy day job, along with keeping up to date with the issues affecting their charity. Social media can be a quick and easy way to do this, particularly if a trustee is new to the charity’s area of expertise.

Trustees can follow stakeholders and trade press on Twitter or join relevant groups on LinkedIn.


Know your role in a crisis

Before social media, a communications crisis would unfold with the staff team, and trustees were less likely to be closely involved. However, because of social media, trustees are involved by default and have far fewer layers of protection.

What do you do if a journalist tweets you asking for comment on a crisis situation?

First, trustees must satisfy themselves that the right policies and procedures are in place and that everyone is aware of what they need to do in such a situation.

Take your trustees through a crisis simulation with key members of the board so that everyone is confident about what they need to do.

Finally, to what extent should trustees get involved in a crisis? Should they be silent on social media, share press comments, or even offer their views (where appropriate)? The answers to these questions will depend on the situation.


Make sure social media is part of a new trustee's induction

Include social media as part of a comprehensive induction for new trustees.

You could cover the charity's social media policy, as well as suggesting people they should follow and groups that they should join.

Guidance for NCVO members on content for a trustee induction pack


Have the right reporting systems in place

Boards can often become overwhelmed by the large amount of information and data that they receive.

Reporting systems for social media should be very simple: selected, key metrics that show reach and engagement, such as:

  • follower growth
  • likes
  • shares
  • comments
  • mentions
  • retweets
  • favourites
  • link clicks
  • use of hashtags 
  • hashtag reach.

For trustees who aren’t familiar with these terms, it may be worth including a short glossary.

Boards could also ask for a session with the digital team, who can walk them through what they are measuring and why.

There will also be KPIs that are specific to your charity and its goals. For example, an arts and heritage organisation may want to use social media to encourage more people to visit its sites, and an organisation looking to develop more social advocacy may want to monitor how many staff are engaging with and sharing its content.

Ideal format for data

Digital teams are often very good at analysing data and sharing detailed, thorough reports. However, boards often lack the story behind the numbers, so it’s helpful to have some context.

For example, digital teams could pick one of the charity’s high-profile campaigns and talk about what worked and what could have gone better.

Qualitative as well as quantitative feedback is also useful, for example sharing tweets from a high-profile MP that the charity needs to build a relationship with.

It’s also good to know how social media translates into action offline: perhaps your charity got to know a corporate on LinkedIn and now has a partnership with them, or attracted delegates for an event promoted on Facebook.


Know how your charity compares to its competitors and the wider sector

Trustees should ask their digital teams to analyse how they stack up against the competition by comparing, for example:

  • size of following
  • rate of engagement
  • content
  • tone of voice.

Ask questions about the data (and challenge when needed)

Trustees need context to really ask the right questions about the data. Your digital team should be able to provide that information; if they can’t, you need to ask why.

As well as this information, it may be useful to note the following facts and see how your charity compares.

  • The average amount of social media traffic to UK charity websites is around 5%.
  • Most of your social media traffic will come from Facebook and Twitter. LinkedIn is now the third source of social traffic for UK charities.
  • A third of consumers now prefer social media as a customer service channels.

Identifying any gaps and asking for more information

Once trustees have the necessary background information about strategy, competitors, trends and data, they should feel empowered to ask questions.

Trustees sometimes feel embarrassed about queries, especially if they’re new to digital. But post-Kids Company, trustees should be asking questions to get to the bottom of key issues. Make it clear that there are no silly questions, especially when it comes to digital.

Identifying if the digital team are providing too much/too little information

This information is a framework for what you should see in your board-level social media reports, but you should feel that you can ask for more or less data if needed.

A good way to identify what you need is to ask the question: ‘What would our closest competitor want to know about our social media strategy and how we’re performing?’ It’s also good to ask if you’re able to meet your audience’s needs through social media.

Above all, trustees need to make sure that they understand the underlying strategy behind any social media reporting.


Raise any concerns

If trustees identify any gaps or concerns about social media they should certainly raise them with the board and also ask for more information from the digital team.

Further information

This content was produced for NCVO by Zoe Amar. Zoe has also developed the free Charity Social Media Toolkit with the Skills Platform.


Page last edited Sep 14, 2016 History

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