By Brenda Tausch Lapora, Staff Attorney, Wayfind Legal
Share. Tweet. Pin. Publish. If your organization is like most nonprofits, you probably maintain a website and Facebook page, and possibly have a Twitter or Instagram account. As a board member, do you ever have that funny feeling or uncertainty that you might be missing something about your organization’s use of social media? Are you worried about your nonprofit’s image or brand? Or maybe this area is uncharted water for you? Below are seven tips to help your nonprofit stay legally above board when on social media. This matters because a board member is a steward of the nonprofit and ensures the organization is complying with the law.
- Get permission to post any outside content. It is a best bet to buy a license from the original author (and read the agreement terms). Attributing the source is not good enough – an author or photographer can still ask you to take down the content and pursue legal action. Claiming a “fair use” defense to copying material is risky and not likely applicable. Best practice example: A conservation organization wants to republish a story on the benefits of bees on their blog. The Communications Manager emails the original author asking for permission before posting.
- Before retweeting, sharing, or repinning somebody’s post, verify the original poster is the creator. Viral content, especially videos, might be posted by somebody infringing on copyright – and your organization can get into trouble. Best practice example: A nonprofit that raises awareness about cancer has an intern who sees a compelling Facebook post about a cancer survivor. Before sharing, he checks out the source by searching snopes.com.
- Ensure that your nonprofit owns the copyright to content created by or for your organization. Have independent contractors sign an assignment of rights agreement. Work created by employees automatically belongs to the employer – but not if the person is an independent contractor. Best practice example: An all-volunteer grassroots organization serving its community wants a web designer to create a website for the organization. The Board President asks the web designer to sign a “work-for-hire” contract that gives (assigns) the organization ownership of the website.
- Get permission to use your community members’ photos or comments in your content. You can run afoul of privacy laws if you don’t have folks’ agreement. An exception might apply if your content is true and newsworthy. But you will always need permission for commercial purposes.Best practice example: A labor advocacy organization would like to publish photos of workers in the community on the organization’s Kickstarter page. The Executive Director asks the Volunteer Coordinator to get written releases from the people in the photos.
- Include disclosures in fundraising posts and emails.Fundraising and advertising laws require truthful statements and may require certain information (or disclosures) to be included. Best practice example: A food bank asks their community for cash and food donations. The food bank has a paid staff member and an annual budget of $60,000. The fundraising posts identify the person’s name who is posting, the organization’s mailing address, that the organization is registered with the Secretary of State’s Charities Program, and lists the Charities Program website address or phone number (i.e.,https://www.sos.wa.gov/charities/).
- Bottom line: develop a clear social media policy for your organization, employees, and volunteers. Best practices for policies include paragraphs that state:
- Only organizational activity should be done under the organization name,
- The organization owns the primary account, staff/volunteers may have user privileges,
- Only certain staff have the authority to accept terms of the social media services used,
- Guidance on etiquette, use of the organization name/brand, and
- Clear guidelines on copyright and trademark infringement prevention.
About the Author
Brenda Tausch Lapora is a Staff Attorney at Wayfind. Wayfind improves the quality of life in Washington communities by providing access to free business legal services for nonprofits andmicroenterprises.
Friendly disclaimer: This article provides general legal information and not specific legal advice. It does not create an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice, your nonprofit may be eligible forand can apply for Wayfind’s free legal services. If you have questions, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Wayfind’s Nonprofit Handbook and templates
- Let’s Go Legal templates
- Nonprofit Quarterly, “How Nonprofits Use Social Media to Engage with Communities”
- Nolo.com, “Drafting an Effective Social Media Policy”