Charities are not above criticism so they too should be prepared

The recent negative press directed at charities proves the sector should not think itself immune to criticism and protect itself accordingly, writes Deborah Watson of Lexia.

Charities are not above criticism so they too should be prepared

The charity sector has had an exceptionally torrid time of it this year, what with the fundraising story in the light of Olive Cooke’s tragic death, the recent closure of Kids Company against a backdrop of controversy, and now the new allegations relating to Samuel Rae.

Do we the public take it from this that all charities are bad and all are adopting unethical and highly aggressive approaches? Of course not (or at least we shouldn’t).

We do have to be really careful about demonising the sector, because great work is done by some exceptional causes, and fundraising is a part of how those organisations are able to deliver their activity.

What we all want from these sagas however, is to see a change in directive, and some really deep soul-searching among each and every organisation to ensure that their practices are appropriate, fair and frequently assessed.

My advice to the charities implicated would be as follows:

(1) Know your facts before you plough in
It’s vital in the case of any potential ‘media crisis’ scenario to ensure you are fully up to speed on what has happened (to the best of your ability), why, and what the implications are. Too often, organisations wade in front of the media without fully gathering the information about their own personal involvement in the alleged story, and what capability they have to do something about it.

(2) Show empathy and understanding
It’s amazing what goodwill compassion and understanding gains you in most cases. Recognise you are dealing with individuals' lives, the strong emotions of those with deep charitable passions, and an appropriate angst over whether money has been fairly accessed and channelled. Whatever you consider to be the ‘hassle’ of your PR issue, there are many people out there for whom this is a deeply emotive and troubling issue and they will judge your immediate stance with a great deal of scrutiny.

(3) Be proactive and offer solutions
This is the important bit. You can’t show sympathy and yet do nothing. Gather those around you who you know can help you implement solutions and ensure that everyone is playing their part in turning the situation on its head. Be helpful to those championing change and ensure your internal culture captures this intention from top-down.

(4) Keep communicating
Whether to the press or to the public (namely your regular donors and supporters) directly – if you go quiet, you breed doubt and disgust. By nature we like to be kept informed. Make sure you deploy whatever resource necessary to keep people up to speed with what you are doing, how this affects them and what they can expect by what timeline. Look at all your channels of communication – from social media to personal letters to supporters.

(5) Review and reflect
Even when the storm has faded, you haven’t won the war yet. You must MUST review practices and plan for better in the future. Use this as your opportunity to communicate to the media as well as to all other stakeholders (including your staff) about how you are ‘continually’ striving for self-improvement.

Deborah Watson is director of Lexia

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