Join The NonProfit Times: or Become a member

Subscribe: Print Publication or Newsletter

Stay connected.
Stay informed.

10 Issues To Address In Your Nonprofit’s Social Media Policy

By Gene Takagi - July 2, 2014

The Internet remains the Wild Wild West of information. And even though it all seems available for the taking, you can run into a huge legal issue if you are not careful regarding grabbing and using the data. It can also cost you if people pirate information from your site or if an employee does something on social media that makes you look bad.

Here are 10 issues that you need to be thinking about when it comes to your social media policies.

1. Copyright and trademark infringement. Your organization could get sued for copyright infringement due to an article, photo, music, or video it posted on one of its sites without the permission of the copyright holder. Tip: Understand the fair use doctrine. Trap: Expecting attribution to offer protection against charges of infringement.

2. Fundraising and foreign state registration requirements. Your organization might need to register in any state in which it is engaged in charitable solicitations (36 states and the District of Columbia require registration). Tip: Check out The Unified Registration Statement ( Trap: Disregarding registration laws and their application to funds raised through the Internet or social media (see the Charleston Principles).

3. Events and foreign state qualifications to do business. Your organization might need to file with the secretary of state or other state business agency in each state in which it is doing business (see, for example, the California Secretary of State’s explanation of the requirements under California law – Tip: Think about whether you are responsible for an event organized through your social media channels and whether it triggers the need to qualify to do business in a foreign state. Trap: Organizing an event then claiming it’s not your responsibility.

4. Volunteers (and agents of the nonprofit) or independent supporters. Your organization could be responsible for the actions of its volunteers and agents, particularly if it didn’t screen, train, or adequately supervise them. Tip: Recognize that the more you control individuals, the more likely they are your agents and the more likely you may be liable for any of their negligent actions. Trap: Directing individuals or committees to act in the nonprofit’s name and not providing any rules or limits to their authority.

5. Supervision of agents of the nonprofit (authorized communications, confidentiality and privacy issues, harassment/discrimination, defamation, bullying). Your organization should make sure that its employees, volunteers and others do not use the organization’s social media sites to misrepresent what it does, divulge confidential or private information, violate laws designed to protect employees, or defame others. Tip: Provide written rules and guidelines to make clear what is and is not acceptable in an agent’s use of social media. Trap: Relying on an agent’s common sense to avoid violating any laws.

6. Advocacy and rules regarding lobbying and political activities (for agents of the nonprofit and users of the nonprofit’s social media and communication platforms). Your organization may be able to best advance its mission by dedicating resources to advocacy and, to the extent permissible, lobbying and political activities. Tip: If your organization is a public charity, check out the resources offered by the Alliance for Justice/Bolder Advocacy ( – you might be able to do much more in this area than you think. Trap: “liking” political candidates or publishing unsolicited comments with political messages on a moderated site, either of which may jeopardize a charitable organization’s 501(c)(3) status for violating the prohibition against electioneering.

7. Collaborations with other organizations and part­ner­ship/joint venture issues. Your organization should take steps to ensure that it understands its legal commitments and potential exposures to liability when entering into any collaboration, whether formal or informal. Tip: Make sure you recognize whether you want your obligations to your collaborative partner(s) to be enforceable. Trap: Unintentionally creating a legal partnership in which each partner may be completely liable for harm created by the other partner.

8. Ownership of social media accounts. Your organization should understand whether or not it owns or has controlling rights over social media accounts it has instructed employees or volunteers to manage. Tip: Where appropriate, state in a writing acknowledged by your employees that your organization owns or has the controlling rights over specified social media accounts. Trap: Claiming ownership of a social media account in which the individual was given no rules or terms of use to freely publish anything of personal interest, which could result in the organization being deemed responsible for harm caused by something published.

9. Employee use of social media and protected activities. Your organization’s em­ployees have rights to engage in certain activities that are protected under law. It takes more than common sense to know these rights as an employer. Tip: Understand that complaints about management and the board on social media sites may be protected from retaliation — see The NLRB and Social Media Policies ( Trap: Adopting overbroad policies that restrain employees from exercising their rights to engage in concerted activities for mutual aid or protection.

10. Violations of policies. Your organization’s policies should include rules (not just guidelines), and these rules should be fairly and reasonably enforced. Tip: Develop internal and external response strategies for violations of policies. Trap: Failing to emphasize the importance of your social media policies and train your staff and volunteers accordingly. E

Gene Takagi is a nonprofit lawyer featured on; contributing publisher of the Nonprofit Law Blog and speaker, lecturer, and writer. His email is [email protected]


Sponsored Podcasts

Welcome to the Raise & Engage podcast, a filters-off series for nonprofit professionals hosted by Blackbaud's straight-shooting expert Danielle Johnson Vermenton. During this open-mic session, you’ll hear honest advice to help YOU do more for your cause.

Episode 6: The Power of ‘No’ at Work|| daniellejohnson-76

You have a job description, but on any given day, you're probably doing dozens of things outside the scope of that description. Combine that with the challenge of a fast-paced environment and the shifting priorities of funders, colleagues, and board members and it’s easy to fall short of doing your best. By being mindful of your limitations and capacity—and saying “no” when your plate is full—you can actually do more for your cause. In the sixth installment of the Raise and Engage podcast Danielle Johnson and Robin Anderson discuss the power of saying “no” at work.

Episode 5: Professional Development: Getting Un-Stuck|| daniellejohnson-76

In the most recent episode of Raise + Engage, Danielle is back with Brian Reich from little m media to discuss how nonprofit professionals can stay motivated and energized in their day-to-day roles. Brian shares his experience working with nonprofits and the lessons and tips he's learn from and shared with them over the years, including tips for avoiding a professional rut, creating forward momentum in your career and pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. If you're considering making a career move or want to ensure you're on the right path, you won't want to miss this inspo-packed episode!

Episode 4: Apps and Hacks to Stay (Mostly) Sane || daniellejohnson-76

Episode 4: Apps and Hacks to Stay (Mostly) Sane, is all about tips, tricks and tools for sanity. Blackbaud’s own interactive product marketer, Julia Lenz, joins host Danielle Johnson to share some high tech. (and no tech.) productivity tips to help nonprofit professionals stay sane in the crazy world of philanthropy.

Tune in to hear:

  • Tips for how to spend the first 30 minutes of your day
  • The benefits of 15 minute meetings
  • Why notebooks are still relevant to a successful organization
  • Ideas for better managing your inbox
  • Why you should take lunch outside the box
  • ...and much more!
Don’t forget to visit the #NoFilterNonprofit Hub afterwards to download our newest tip sheet10 Productivity Hacks for Nonprofits.

Episode 3: Tech. Connection: Solutions, Strategy, and Staff || daniellejohnson-76

Episode 3: Tech. Connection: Solutions, Strategy, and Staff In episode 3 of the Raise + Engage podcast, Danielle Johnson is joined by Chris Geady and William DaSilva, two IT experts in the nonprofit space, to talk technology integration for NPOs: when you need it, when you don’t, and how to do it successfully.

Tune in to hear:

  • When to say NO to integration
  • How to set your strategic plan before even looking at technologies
  • Ways to get your entire team on board
  • The importance of identifying a project lead
  • The RFP process - how it should and should not go
And William shares a story about a nonprofit that may or may not have still been using a typewriter. You don't want to miss this one!

Episode 2: From Socially Awkward to Socially Awesome! || daniellejohnson-76

According to Danielle Johnson, straight-shooting host of the Raise + Engage podcast series, if your staff members aren’t the number one advocates for your cause on social media, you’re failing. In the most recent episode, Danielle is joined by Blackbaud’s own social media guru Madeline Turner to discuss overcoming social struggles and creating a social ambassador program at your organization. This entertaining and insightful duo dishes on the importance of making your social media presence human, making the case for a formal social program to leadership, how University of Michigan turned a one time social media campaign into a long term social program, and how Madeline's mom unknowingly became a social ambassador on #GivingTuesday.

Episode 1: Corporate Culture & Development: Shake It Up! || daniellejohnson-76

In the premiere episode of Raise & Engage, Danielle is joined by three straight-shooting nonprofit rock-stars: Jodi Smith of Sanford Health Systems, Veronica Brown of Chicago Public Library Foundation and Ali Burke of Southlake Regional Health Centre Foundation. The group talks organizational culture, problem employees, why its important to celebrate and how to shake things up this year and build a better more authentic team that gets stuff done!


Stay informed, catch latest trends in the nonprofit space.

Subscribe to Our Free Newsletter

No obligation, unsubscribe at anytime.

Success! Check your email inbox.

Follow Us On Twitter

NPT 2016 Buyers' Guide

Newsletter Sign-up

click here to return to the previous page