Zoe Amar: Three ways 2020 has changed how charity leaders use digital

04 Sep 2020 Voices

Zoe Amar looks at how charity leaders are engaging with the big issues of 2020 online

2020 will be remembered for two things: Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter. How we tackle both of these issues as a sector is ultimately about how we adapt and innovate, and how we communicate and bring people with us at a time of huge change. None of this is possible without strong leadership from digitally savvy leaders. 

We’ve seen some brilliant examples of this since we went into lockdown, from charity leaders campaigning for sector funding to fighting for beneficiaries needs to challenging the status quo. In those disorientating initial weeks offices were closed but social media felt like a giant co-working space where charities were collaborating and learning from each other. We heard inspiring stories of charities large and small adapting or developing new digital services, including Action for Children’s Parent Talk and Alexandra Rose Charity’s digital delivery of food vouchers. And that’s why we’re excited to open nominations for the Social CEOs awards today to help recognise these great examples of leadership, innovation and collaboration.  

Our judging panel will select an overall winner from the top 30 CEOs on social media, along with individual awards for the best trustee, senior leader, and rising star on social media. They will also be making awards for Best Digital CEO and Best Digital Leader (who could be a trustee, director, or head of), Best Digital Trustee and Best Digital Champion. The latter award is for nominees who are championing digital in the area of the sector they work in. If you’d like to nominate someone it would be great to see brief examples and stats to support nominations. 

Nominations are open for leaders of any registered charity, regardless of size or cause. The diversity of nominees will be a major focus of our judges and we will be working closely with the sector to grow nominations in this area. We need to do better at this and it will be a priority for the awards this year. 

This brings us back to Covid-19. Both the pandemic and the issue of how the sector can better represent the communities they serve involve difficult conversations about what our future should look like and what we are prepared to do to get there. These are conversations that need to be had, and they need to happen in the open otherwise we will embed the assumptions and biases that we need to break down to move forward. 

There are 3 ways in which charity leaders are tackling the big issues of 2020 online. 


Leaders have used this technique as a powerful way to engage people long before digital existed. As the pandemic unfolds one of the best things leaders can do is to share the stories of the people who their charity supports, advocating what needs to change. This tweet by Kate Lee, CEO of the Alzheimer’s Society, includes emotive, heart breaking detail. If we want donors and other stakeholders to show empathy, compassion and support to our causes then that begins with how we demonstrate these qualities online as leaders. 

This approach must feel real and raw if it’s going to work. Next time you hear a story which moves you as a leader, grab your phone and tell people why it matters. 


Since we went into lockdown we’ve seen charity leaders opening up online about their hopes and fears for the sector. Karl Wilding, CEO at NCVO and other leaders were vocal and visible about their work on the #NeverMoreNeeded and #EveryDayCounts campaigns as they lobbied government for emergency funding for the sector. 

Caron Bradshaw of CFG wrote an excellent series of blogs analysing the implications of the crisis for the sector. Long form reads can help leaders articulate the challenges we face in depth, and unite stakeholders behind what needs to happen.  

 We need  more open, honest conversations if we want to increase the diversity of the charity workforce. Those of us in positions of power should demystify how they got there. Former Social CEOs winner Raji Hunjan wrote an excellent thread on why diverse applicants should apply for a non-executive role she was leaving, saying why their perspective matters and what support they will receive. 

Leaders have a vital role in encouraging charities to reflect on why they need to make inclusion a priority. Social media is where we can show why things cannot continue as they are. 


It’s been a tough year and there are more challenges ahead. Yet during lockdown we saw a group of sector leaders take to TikTok with dance routines and a message of unity. This is the year to keep trying new things online and seize moments of levity and fun when we can. 

 Covid-19 and #BlackLivesMatter have raised big questions about the long term changes we want to see in the sector. Social media is where we can continue to learn from each other through challenging conversations and digital will be essential for innovation and collaboration. What we say and do online now will shape the sector’s future. 

Nominate a charity leader on the Social CEO website.

Nominees will be judged by a panel of voluntary sector leaders and the results will be announced on 12 November. All entries must be received by 9am on Monday 5 October.

Zoe Amar is a charity marketing and digital communications expert and freelance consultant

Charity Finance Week 2020 will take place online from 23 to 27 November. The theme of “turning crisis into opportunity” will explore the role of finance and IT leaders in guiding their charities through the pandemic and rebuilding for the future. Incorporating the Charity Finance Summit, the Charity Fraud Conference and the Charity Technology Conference, this is not an event to miss. Find out more here.



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