Zoe Amar: Why charity leaders need to speak truth to power online 

06 Sep 2019 Voices

Zoe Amar explains why its more important than ever for charity leaders to have a presence on social media, as nominations for this year's Social CEOs award open.

I’m writing this at the start of what looks like an especially turbulent week in politics. This is far from the only challenge facing the sector at the moment, with both regular giving and trust in decline, according to the Charities Aid Foundation’s latest research. How can charities get their point across in such a febrile environment, when conversations online can rapidly become emotive and challenging? 

The answer cannot be to batten down the hatches. With so many debates taking place on social media charity leaders need to be not only visible, but unafraid to say what they think. 

This is the 7th year of the Social CEOs awards and we need to keep pace with how social media is evolving, which is why we’re currently running a survey with ACEVO about the impact of trolling on female charity CEOs. What hasn’t changed is that social media can be a brilliant way to fundraise, fight for beneficiaries’ needs and build valuable relationships with government and the media. We want to hear about the charity leaders who are doing this well, which is why we are opening nominations for the Social CEOs awards this morning. Last year our winners included Kate Collins of Teenage Cancer Trust and Paul Streets of Lloyds Bank Foundation, with the awards reaching 2.2 million people on Twitter alone. 

Our judging panel will once again select an overall winner from the top 30, alongside making individual awards for the best trustee, senior leader, and rising star on social media. They will also give 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 recognising nominees who are championing digital in the sector they work in. The judges are keen to see stats and examples to support these nominations. We welcome nominations from leaders of any registered charity of all sizes and causes, and we would like to see a diverse range of applications. 

Here’s what we can learn from how 2018’s winners are using social media in these volatile times. 

Don’t be afraid to challenge

Charity leaders need to be bold when calling out what they disagree with online. This tweet by Sarah Hughes, CEO of the Centre for Mental Health works because it doesn’t pull any punches and is topical and relevant to her followers’ interests. 

This sense of advocacy is particularly important in the current climate. Mark Flannagan, a former charity CEO (and previous Social CEOs winner) who now works in the NHS, points out that: “We live in a time when people want their voice to be heard – and acted upon.  It is the duty of our sector to either enable our beneficiaries to be heard, or to act as their informed advocates at all times.” 

By speaking out charity leaders will be able to build a community of supporters who share their values and passion for social change. 

Be positive and show how things are changing

With so much change and uncertainty ahead of Brexit, charity leaders have a golden opportunity to stand up and show how their charities are working to make things better. What could you tell your supporters today about how you are making progress? Louise Macdonald (CEO of Young Scot) and her tweet below show not only what her charity is pressing for but how they are working with others towards joint goals. 

Bring your community together

With Brexit dividing the country and many worried about the economic impact of leaving the EU without a deal, charity leaders can use social media to stand up for their values and show what unites them with the communities they work in. Chris Sherwood of the RSPCA often posts about what he has learned from the various regions that his charity works in and how his staff are making a difference on the ground. 

Posts such as these can also be a good way to boost staff morale. 

As we’ve learned from our previous winners, charity leaders need to be out there on social media challenging ideas, campaigning on behalf of beneficiaries and getting involved in debates about how they can make their organisations and the sector a better place (I'm thinking of #CharitySoWhite). Because if we cannot be the sector which stands up for communities, equality and social justice, then what are we? 

Nominations can be made here -  https://www.socialceos.org/nominate 

Nominees will be judged by a panel of voluntary sector leaders and the results will be announced on Thursday 21 November. All entries must be received by midnight on Friday 27 September.

Civil Society News is the media partner for the awards


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