'It does not matter how good you are, bad things can happen'

Charities are just as susceptible to bad press as private sector organisations and need to plan for a crisis, says Kirsty Lee.

You are a registered charity. You do good work. How can you possibly be accused of doing anything wrong?

It does not matter how good you are, something bad can and will happen, and charities are no less susceptible than private sector organisations.

Working with vulnerable people, or on sensitive issues such as mental health, relationships or homelessness, means that charities are in many ways more vulnerable to difficult situations, which can have a huge reputational impact and affect your ability to operate or raise funds.

Managing reputations is as important as managing operational or financial risk. Yet while most charities have detailed plans for what to do if their office is flooded, or if their funding starts to dry up, most have not thought about how to protect their reputation during a crisis.

I have worked with charities large and small, and I have had first-hand experience of the things that can, and do, go wrong.

A celebrity patron going off-message, missing funds or allegations against staff or volunteers are deeply distressing to families, service users and employees.

But they can also do damage to an organisation's reputation. And with 24-hour news outlets and online forums, that damage can now happen quicker than ever.

Local 'news in brief' items can become regional stories and national features within a matter of hours - often before you or your senior team are even aware that anything has happened.

The only way to tackle this is to act instantly, and you can only do that if you have planned in advance.

It can seem counter-intuitive to spend time and money preparing for something that might never happen.

But charities have a lot to lose in terms of trust and support of people you work with, as well as contracts or funding.

Successful crisis management should never be about covering up something. Rather, it is about being able to confidently and quickly address issues head-on.

Careful planning can put you in a position to minimise the distress caused to the people you work with, while also protecting and even strengthening your organisation's reputation.

If you can respond quickly, you will show that you are in control, open and committed. If you get it wrong though, it could take months or years to recover - if you manage it at all.

As the saying goes, failing to plan is planning to fail.

Kirsty Lee is account director at Amazon PR.

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