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Reputation Management – how to turn crisis into confidence building.

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A good reputation management strategy and the right timely advice can turn a potentially disastrous breach of trust into an affirmation of integrity.

With the recent news that Oxfam’s Chief Executive is to stand down, following the scandal arising from sexual misconduct by the charity’s staff in Haiti, it is clearer than ever that for third sector organisations public trust is key. The real damage in recent scandals has not arisen from the misuse of funds, or breach of safeguarding obligations, so much as from the lack of rigour and openness in how the charity has dealt with the incident. Had an adequate reputation management strategy been in place, combined with a healthy culture focussed on safeguarding, the lasting damage would have been minimal. The message left with donors could have been significant reassurance and a reminder of the valuable work that the charity carries out on their behalf rather than an unsettling concern about where their money is going.

The benefits of a correct response to ‘scandals’

The better the internal response to crisis from any third sector client the easier it is to craft a positive message from it. Any organisation needs to reinforce the message that staff can report genuine concerns about a colleague in confidence without fear of reprisal. The culture must be such that their position is more at risk from not reporting a concern than it is from raising it. If a transparent and thorough investigation discovers nothing of concern then the charity’s reputation is protected in any event. If there has been a mis-direction of funds or a breach of safeguarding then the fact that the issue was swiftly reported, investigated and any recommendations implemented, can serve to preserve trust in the organisation amongst its funders.

Reputation management is all about using the increased profile arising from the issue to portray positive messages about the organisation and to puncture third party attempts to do otherwise. Whilst it is the scandal that raises the organisation’s profile an adequate response, together with the correct action by those with the necessary skills to craft the message, can result in donors retaining a positive message from the incident and thereby reduce the impact on donations arising from it.

Reputation management skills are as key internally as they are externally. The message left with staff, through properly drafted communications, is one of a culture preserved rather than one of working for a flawed organisation. The focus on a positive culture enables the organisation to retain and attract talented individuals and limits the damage to staff morale arising from any incidents.

The impact of an incident on a third sector organisation’s credit, and the approach of the regulator, are both informed by the messages about that organisation’s response and how it is received by its donors. The ripples from a prompt and well-crafted oversight of reputation management are widely felt and the right timely advice really can make a big difference on many levels, and avoid the need for a resignation in order to address any loss of faith in the charity’s leadership.

For further advice on reputation management please contact Emma Banister Dean on:

01865 792300     Email

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