Charities and Reputation - Some Guidance

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Reputation and Risk

Voluntary sector activity is based upon trustworthiness, reliability, integrity and goodwill, and the value of a strong reputation should not be underestimated. Your public image influences partnership and contract prospects, campaigning, donation levels and the ability to attract volunteers.  Charities need to be aware that almost every activity carries reputational risk, whether that’s responding to an increased demand for services or a changing operating environment. In the past year, media attention has focused on questionable practices in national charities – but we need to be vigilant at local level too.

Reputation is vital when working with vulnerable people, and especially where the service is centred on the users’ needs. Staff are important too, and negative media reporting can damage staff morale as much as hurt the organisation’s reputation.

The hallmarks of an effective charity

The best way to safeguard your reputation is to ensure you operate a strong high quality organisation. The Charity Commission offers six hallmarks that characterise a strong charity:

  • Clear about purpose and direction
  • A strong board with skills experience and involvement
  • Fit for purpose
  • Learning and improving
  • Financially sound and  prudent
  • Accountable and transparent

Trustees play a crucial role and need to ask themselves if their charity is ‘strong’ or if it’s standing on the proverbial shifting sand.  Organisational quality is eventually reflected in reputation not only affecting the social impact of what you do but also funding opportunities The key is to regularly prove to yourself the strength of your organisation and put plans in place to continually improve.

Awareness of potential risk

If you operate for long-enough something will go wrong and not all risks can be removed.

Potential weak spots need to be identified and a strategy devised to deal with any problems that might arise. Do you have an action plan in place in the event of an unexpected event or misleading news story that’s appeared about your organisation?

The first task is to be identify your most vulnerable areas of operation – such as funding, frontline services, staffing, record-keeping or premises lease perhaps. Are there areas of weakness? Establish a potential consequence for, for example, sudden loss of an important area of work or key staff, or an unexpected audit or termination of lease. Then ask yourselves:

  • How bad would it be if this risk materialised?
  • Could we ‘do business as usual’?
  • What areas of operations would be most affected?
  • Which of our stakeholders would it most impact – service users, partners, public?
  • Might we lose an important contract or donor?
  • Who would handle the situation and potential media interest?

Having an effective crisis management plan in place will mean that fast action can be taken in delegating responsibilities, dealing with the press and social media and taking steps to ‘heal’ the crisis swiftly and effectively.

We have a responsibility to not only safeguard the trust in us as individual organisations but also trust in the sector as a whole.