Volunteers, Social Media and Risk


Here are a few tips for managing the risks that arise from volunteer use of social media or the use of social media to attract, support and connect volunteers.

  • Don’t overreact — Posting a “tit for tat” response to every negative post by disgruntled volunteers may cast your nonprofit in a negative light. Stakeholders may begin to wonder why your staff have enough free time to pounce on every post, or why the nonprofit is so defensive when criticized. The truth is that not every volunteer will have a positive experience at your nonprofit. No organization will live up to the expectations of everyone who signs up to serve.
  • Look for the wisdom in negative feedback — Many leaders have a visceral, negative reaction to critical feedback about the organizations they love, such as: “That’s not true!” or “That’s not fair!” While the unflattering post may not be entirely accurate, negative feedback may contain wisdom that you can use to strengthen your volunteer program. At a minimum, you’re learning that a volunteer had a negative experience. Instead of dismissing the volunteer as vindictive or unhinged, consider the reasons for the volunteer’s negative experience. Is it possible that s/he was misled about the volunteer role? Or that s/he never received the training necessary to serve as needed?
  • Remember the village — A common mistake is to relegate oversight of a nonprofit’s social media activity to a single department, such as communications, marketing or IT. The multiple facets of social media risk and reward warrant a team approach to strategizing and risk management. To maximize your experimentation with social media tools to reach and connect volunteers strive to tap the perspectives of team members with diverse points of view.
  • Keep a sense of humor but keep it clean — A prominent national organization turned a “tweet” about shopping for beer sent in error from the nonprofit’s Twitter account into positive attention when it posted a light hearted follow-up tweet acknowledging the erroneous post. Be cautious however, and remember that effective humor in your blog posts and tweets should never cross the line and express views that you’d be uncomfortable sharing out loud from the podium at a volunteer recruitment or recognition event.