Be Careful When Using Volunteers to Drive Social Media
By Crystal L. Thies

Crystal Thies
Crystal Thies
A recent blog post on social media noted that hiring a 23-year-old to drive social networking initiatives at a nonprofit, because he or she uses this technology everyday, is a bit like hiring a lumberjack to drive the program at an environmental nonprofit.

But the only thing worse would be if the nonprofit recruited that 23-year-old to do the same work as a volunteer—which is what many smaller nonprofits are considering, especially those without the staff to get started with social media.

Getting a volunteer to run your organization’s social media isn’t a bad idea if it’s approached correctly. You have to recruit this volunteer with kid gloves, much the same as if you were recruiting a volunteer to handle the organization’s finances.

The wrong volunteer in either situation could completely destroy the organization. If this volunteer has login and editing access to all of your social media and they become disgruntled (or simply inept), they have the power to cause major damage to the organization’s image and brand and have instant reach to all of your donors and supporters.

Using a volunteer in this capacity should really only be taken on by organizations with an established volunteer program; this is not the volunteer to get your volunteer program started.

You have to treat this volunteer more like an unpaid staff person: they must have a supervisor; they must sign a contract that details expectations of what they can and cannot do; you must do reference and background checks; and they should be included in any staff meetings that address social media, marketing and fundraising needs.

This is not a position that can operate in a silo. The person handling your social media must have their hand on the pulse of the organization in order to have the knowledge to properly leverage social media.

How do you find this volunteer?
Mine your donor and volunteer database for people who work in marketing, PR, and IT.
Contact them directly to see if they have the expertise and would be interested in helping the organization in this way. If they don’t, ask them if they can refer someone who may be able to help. Referring means that they not only give you the name and contact information of the person, but that they actually contact the referral themselves, summarize the opportunity, and get permission for you to contact them.

Send out a call for volunteers using viral email to your entire donor and volunteer database (those who have given you permission to contact them in this manner).
Many people have the skills and knowledge of social media as a result of personal interest and hobbies that would not be apparent from their occupation. This call should be very detailed in regards to scope of activities, skills/experience needed, and time commitment. By viral, that means that you request they forward the email to anyone they think would be interested or able to help you locate the volunteer. Do not send the email message using cc or bcc. The email message should be sent using mail merge or other email system that sends the message out to one person at a time.

Use third-party volunteer recruiters like or Business Volunteers Unlimited.
Or, like many other organizations, consider getting a business or consultant to donate their services. One thing to keep in mind is that there is no tax benefit for donation of services—only tangible property. Therefore, when negotiating the donation, you should recommend that the organization pay for the services and ask for a donation/pledge that will offset the cost. The donor could generally restrict the gift for use (such as technology or public relations) if they so choose, but there cannot be a true quid pro quo or it negates the tax deductibility of the gift.

When it comes to using social media, it is very important to remember that you are dealing with very valuable assets: your organization’s image and brand. Make sure that the organization has control when using outside sources (volunteer or paid). The organization must have administrative powers and login information for all of their social media activities.

Crystal L. Thies, MPA, is owner and virtual buzz manager of Crystal Clear Buzz, a social media and virtual marketing firm. This article is reprinted from her blog, Nonprofit Doesn't Mean Break Even. Contact her at 859-391-6562 or email to