Charities’ use of technology and social media

18 December, 2013

With the increasing use of technology and ever-present popularity of social media, many charities are considering the benefits which they could gain from embracing a more digital presence. However, it is important that this consideration be explored with a combined awareness of the potential risks and safeguards that may need to be put in place to protect the charity’s interests.



Benefits and risks of technology

Utilising new forms of technology can assist charities to be more efficient, minimise IT administration, and reduce costs of expensive servers. In particular, cloud computing, which involves outsourcing data, IT structures and security to a third party supplier who then hosts this information in a data centre and delivers it to users via the internet, can offer a variety of notable benefits. By adopting cloud computing, charity employees are free to access their work from home rather than the office, which provides a greater degree of flexibility and reduces the need for expensive office locations. This remote access facility is particularly useful for global charities whose employees travel frequently. Cloud computing can serve to reduce charities’ costs of maintaining IT hardware and updating software, as these issues would be dealt with by the cloud provider. Furthermore, adopting this form of technology can assist charities in collaborating with other organisations more easily by permitting access to data across a standard platform.


Despite these benefits, charities who wish to use cloud computing should ensure they consider the risks involved. Primarily, these may involve legal jurisdiction issues if the cloud provider is based overseas or if the data is to be shared between international charities, contractual and due-diligence considerations to ensure that the cloud provider is reputable and that the charity has an adequate remedy in the event of failure by the cloud provider and also data protection issues relating to where the charity’s personal data (for example the contact details for its supporters) is being used and stored. Charities are therefore advised to conduct as much research as possible on potential cloud providers, with specific consideration to their security measures. To protect their interests, charities should also ensure that they obtain a suitable written contract which contains adequate safeguards for personal data. The Information Commissioner’s Office provides further guidance and a useful checklist about assessing the risks involved in cloud computing.



Benefits and risks of social media

Whilst utilising new technology can improve efficiency and reduce costs, embracing social media can provide globally accessible platforms for charities to promote their campaigns and values. In August 2013, Greenpeace effectively utilised social media to provide global coverage of their Shard stunt to raise awareness of Shell’s drilling activities in the Artic. As charities heavily depend on the loyalty of their supporters to fundraise and further their cause, it is highly beneficial to engage in an online dialogue. Online platforms such as Facebook and Pinterest can be used by charities to raise awareness through daily conversation, event posts, and boards. Depending on the individual focus of the charity, some platforms may be more suitable than others. Whilst Twitter can be used to publish frequent updates on campaigns and donations, and promote celebrity endorsements, charities can utilise LinkedIn to open up channels of networking with other professionals in the charity sector.


Charities should be aware, however, of the negative issues that using social media platforms may cause. Initiating conversations online may increase the risk of unanswered or uncensored comments from users which have the potential to affect the charity’s reputation. Therefore, charities must ensure that they regularly check their social networking sites to monitor and take action where necessary. They should also ensure that their staff and volunteers keep their conversations and campaigns up-to-date. With regards to branding, charities should ensure that they remain consistent across the different social media platforms to avoid their message and values being ‘diluted’.


In summary, whilst charities can benefit substantially from embracing social media and new forms of technology, it is crucial that they put in place sufficient safeguards to protect their data, interests and beliefs, and overall reputation.

Reviewed in 2015