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Chatting about Social Media Ethics with David Tinker, CFRE, and Lisa Chmiola, CFRE

Resource Center - Foundation

Lisa Chmiola

Engaging with donors online is now a must, and more and more social media platforms provide not just access to individuals, but also to a great deal of personal information about those individuals. But as someone once said to a certain web-slinging superhero, “with great power comes great responsibility.” That applies to access to information as well.

Nerdy comic book reference aside, AFP recently chatted with David Tinker, CFRE and Lisa Chmiola, CFRE about how to responsibly and ethically interact with donors and donor information online. 

I know when I look at Amazon and then log into FaceBook, there's an ad for what I just was looking at right there in my feed or on the right hand side. Is there something like that for nonprofits? If so how do ethics play into that?

 Dave: Nonprofits can buy ads on Facebook that will appear if the cookies in a person’s browsing history include a key word or website you want to target. Just like renting a mailing list for direct mail, you want to target individuals who have some sort of link, ability, and interest to your organization and or its mission. 

While it makes sense to solicit people who are the most interested in your cause, the ethical issue that could arise is privacy.  Brandology found that one-third of people feel tracking advertising is an invasion of privacy, and 73 percent objects to being tracked online. Privacy is a form of trust. Do you want people associating your organization with privacy and trust issues? 

Just like you would do with direct mail, give the individuals an opportunity to opt out of the ads that they are seeing. However, with so many people feeling like this type of advertising is a privacy issue; seriously consider how you will be using the advertising information.

Dave TinkerIf you've made a breach of social media ethics, is there something simple and immediate you can do to correct the situation?

Lisa:   It depends what the breach is, of course. As in any crisis management situation, notifying your supervisor and other related parties at your organization to formulate a plan is best. Issuing apologies where appropriate is important as well. Simply deleting a post does not always fix problems. 

Dave:  Exactly. Be aware that posts are always stored somewhere online. The US Library of Congress is archiving every tweet ever tweeted – including the deleted ones.  Even Snapchat posts that are supposed to expire were found to be stored online in an archive. 

And perhaps it goes without saying, but be sure to NOT use any information obtained during the breach in any part of your work, even though you’ve seen it. 

Besides just being vigilant, are there preventative steps one can take (on both the part of the donor and the fundraiser) to ensure ethical behavior?

Dave:  A simple step can be an organization having a social media policy in place for the fundraising staff to follow.  You can also place a policy on your social media pages, e.g. Facebook page for your agency, which explains how you expect people posting to the pages to interact.  Having board-approved policies related to social media will help both the donor and the fundraiser alike ensure ethical behavior. 

Lisa:  Having a social media policy in place for the organization is a big first step. We’ll talk a little about this on the webinar, including some resources for policy creation.

Interacting with a donor through the big Social Media quartet - LinkedIn, Twitter, FaceBook and Instagram - what's acceptable and what's not?

Lisa: That depends on your organization’s policies, and the fundraiser’s personal preferences. At St. Agnes Academy, faculty and staff cannot be connected to current students, so that would mean no connection to students in the senior class who make donations as part of the class gift campaign. But it would be fine to connect with alumni and parent donors, since they are adults.

My personal philosophy has been to accept connections from donors and volunteers on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram if they initiate it, but I don’t seek them out. But I will initiate a connection on LinkedIn, since that has a more professional bent. In both cases, I won’t share content I’m not comfortable about them asking me about the next time they see or talk with me. Some fundraisers keep two accounts – one for personal and one professional – but on some platforms, that’s technically a violation of the terms of service. 

Dave:  Social media is great to engage with donors online, especially if that’s how that donor most likes to communicate. However, the big four social media networks are also a very public way to interact. Consider the donor’s privacy when you interact with them on social media and know when to take the conversation offline in a more private method of communication, like email, a phone call, or via text, when appropriate.

What's your favorite website and why?

Dave:  I would have to say Twitter is my favorite website. I’m a news junkie and I enjoy visiting various news websites, but Twitter is the easiest way to keep track of news in real time.

Lisa:  I’d have to say Google. I’m a big fan of research, and I use Google many times a day for personal and professional information searches. But of course, the folks at Google already know that… 


To find out more about social media and ethics join us for Dave and Lisa’s webinar on October 14 at 1:00 PM Eastern, “Social Media and Ethics in Fundraising”. 

For more info or to register, click here.  

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