It's that time of year.
Holiday decorations go up, our homes are cozy and warm, stores stream holiday music all day long and we are asked to help those who need it most; kids, animals, the elderly, veterans, the poor and the sick. There are lots on non profits out there who needs our support.
During the holiday season we seem to feel more inclined to help the less fortunate than at any other time of the year. I am not one to question the 'why' even though I think we should be doing this all year long. I am all for giving extra time and money during the holiday season!
Yay you, yay me, yay to all of us who care enough to act.
I encourage any and all monetary donations, charitable gift giving and volunteer hours spent shopping, serving food and wrapping toys for those less fortunate.
That's not what this rant is about.
Bear with me, I've got a point to get across, this is going to be a bit long, but there is a point to this. Please read on!
I love that you volunteer. I love that you donate kids toys, cook and serve food, give generously of your time and money. I like that you want to tell others on social media about your generosity. Really I do. It might just inspire someone else to step up and act as well. What I don't like is when you are doing this at the expense of the lost privacy of these recipients and for your own personal gain.
Let me set the scenario that I saw played out on Facebook several times last year during the holiday season and what I am already starting to see again this year.
A local (business owner) posts that they are excited to be part of a group of entrepreneurs (insert: law enforcement officers, firemen, nurses, school teachers, philanthropic organization, etc.) who will be treating local kids to a special day. They will be 'shopping with kids' for holiday gifts and necessities, giving them a budget and gift cards to complete their shopping spree. The day also involves pancakes or pizza, drinks and usually a game-zone, rollerskating rink or something like that. They proudly take a picture of themselves in their volunteer shirt early in the morning.
There is nothing wrong with this scenario thus far. In fact, I wish more people would share how, where and why they volunteer as this country is in desperate need of more volunteer hours from more adult volunteers!
What happens next is what gets me [mad]
The next thing usually posted are awkward pictures of said volunteer with a child, shopping in a store, or consuming food. The pictures are awkward [and so so wrong] because a) there is no bond between these two people who just met, which always shows in the pictures b) any kid over the age of seven realizes they are the subject of charitable giving and most likely doesn't want their picture taken c) the posts don't serve a purpose beyond the 'look at me giving' [my time and effort]
As a social media consultant, and as a mom to four kids, it irks me to no end (this is a nice way to say that it makes me extremely mad) that children are used for these types of social media photo ops, most often and most likely without any parental consent, written or verbal.
Be the one they count on, don't be counting social media stats!
It is not necessarily wrong to take these pictures if the child poses and is willing (to share with mom and dad later, or to share with the charity), it is however very wrong to post these pictures on your social media channels for the world world to see without permission from the charity and without parental consent and most likely for your own personal gain and benefit!
Last year we saw a huge upswing in people using video on social media. Thus I saw several videos, two of them live videos, of these types of shopping sprees and holiday outings with children as subjects in these videos. Can I just say it again?
STOP IT. STOP DOING THAT. STOP POSTING PICTURES VIDEOS OF CHILDREN WITHOUT CONSENT!
Everyone who volunteers has their own personal reasons for doing so. I can't venture to guess what your personal reasons are. However, most people who volunteer speak of wanting to help those in need because of feelings of empathy, compassion, humanity, kindness, sympathy and benevolence.
This is what these words mean:
Empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
Compassion: sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.
Humanity: humaneness; benevolence.
Kindness: the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.
Sympathy: understanding between people; common feeling.
Benevolence: the quality of being well meaning; kindness
See how all of these talk about being considerate, generous, kind and share feelings?
Please, put yourself in the shoes of these kids, these families for just a minute before you post your next picture on social media.
Let me spell it out for you!
I have four kids, three of them teenagers. Last year I was shopping at a local Walmart with one of my teens when we ran into a classmate out 'shopping' with a local law enforcement officer. The teenagers looked at each other. They then pretended they didn't know each other and both turned around quickly. It was very, very clear that the teenage boy was embarrassed having been seen shopping. (With a quick scan I'd seen underwear and school supplies in his basket) I happen to know the family and thus I know it's a single mom with three children and I am pretty sure that the boy went along because of the things he needed, not because he would get things he wanted and because he knew that was the only way he would get these things.
Can you imagine his embarrassment if his 'shopper' wanted to take a picture of them together?
No one I know speaks of volunteering because they expect something in return, yet what I've seen on social media in the last few years, has me believing there are some folks who have ulterior motives for being involved with charities.
Before I go on, I do want to make something clear. I highly advocate sharing your charitable donations and volunteerism with your online world. In fact, I highly encourage my (social media management) clients, all business owners, to get involved in their local community and share their involvement on social channels. It shows the human side of your brand.
There is a right way to post about charities, monetary donations and charitable volunteer hours. There is also a very wrong way to go about it!
I believe we can all benefit from some posting guidelines as it pertains to charity, volunteering and social media.
TOTAL SIDE NOTE HERE: There is of course, an exception. Using charity involvement and social media together is a bit different if YOU ARE THE SOCIAL MEDIA DIRECTOR for the charity! If you run the charity, you are also responsible for putting together a social media strategy. You not only get to create the guidelines, you will need to educate your volunteers about them and enforce them! Only then do you get to take pictures and post them - with permission (and signed waivers) and you do get to tell the stories, the back ground and humanize your charity.
However, if you are a volunteer this holiday season, if you give your time, your talent and your resources, but you are not on the board, your are not in charge, then you need to take heed to what I am writing here. You do not have permission to put anyone's picture up on social media without consent.
So here it goes...
Top 10 Ways To Post with Dignity on Social Media About Your Charity Involvement
Ask, ask, ask. Ask the charity for their social media policy on taking pictures. Ask if there are photo waivers in place for all involved. Ask each individual permission to take their picture. Then if you feel the need to post these - ask each individual if they are ok with you posting their picture on your social media. Ask for permission from parents to take their child's picture if they are around. [If there are no parents around, do not take pictures.] Tell parents how the pictures will be used. Don't lie, omit information or just forge ahead with posting!
Instead, take pictures and video of yourself, shelter animals and the gifts you give. Do not post pictures of the people who benefit from your money or actions unlessthey volunteer to do so, and are adults. It should never be a 'condition' of your charitable giving to get images or video.
Take pictures and video of yourself-in-action. That could be wrapping gifts, shopping, cooking a meal, delivering a hot meal, collecting dog food etc. Don't involve other people. Focus on you.
Talk about your 'why'. How did you find this charity? Why did you choose to give your time/talent/money here vs somewhere else? Tell your personal story on social media thorough pictures and video.
Add a call-to-action to your posts, pictures and video, encouraging your online friends and family to also help out! Challenge them, encourage them, cajole them and send them to a specific charity: offline to volunteer, or online for giving.
Take pictures and video on location when possible. If you are at the animal shelter, check-in and post about their immediately needs. If you are at the soup kitchen and they are short volunteers, post about looking for additional helping hands. Checking in and posting about where you are alerts your friends as to your volunteerism in a positive way. Make them curious about what you are doing; the goal is to get people talking to you about what you are doing on social media so that you can share your experience!
The descriptions to go along with your social posts should be descriptive and concise. Tagging charities and/or businesses and/or donors and sponsors in your social posts is a good habit, but never tag individuals who receive charity dollars or goods.
Interview staff (director of the charity, front office manager etc.) and ask how others can help! Find out their specific needs and post pictures of other volunteers if they want be pose and be highlighted.
When working with kids, if you must take pictures, look for opportunities to share pictures without showing their faces so that these kids can not be identified online.
Don't forget that even if you don't 'gram' it, Facebook it, snap it or text it, it still happened. Take an offline moment to reflect on how grateful you feel that you can help. Enjoy that moment, feel that moment and treasure the memories. Sometimes, not sharing anything on social for a day because you are busy making a difference in someone's life has more impact than posting on social media. Carpe Diem.
Do you agree or disagree on this with me?
Now tell me, where do you volunteer and give your time, talent and money and why?