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How to build trust and your charity's reputation

Trust in institutions and the people that run them is declining year on year and charities are not immune to this. In particular, surveys have shown that trust in charities has taken a hit following a spate of negative stories about recent practices charities have employed.

Trust is of paramount importance to charities. The public’s trust is one of the major factors that underpins donations of time and money by millions of people every year. Any charity worth its salt will stay alert to reputational risks and, where necessary, make significant changes to its practices if they could be detrimental to achieving their charitable aims and objectives.

The following five points are an ideal starting point to help charities build trust and protect their reputations. 

1

Build trust

This has to start with openness, honesty and transparency. Donors are crying out for simple, well-presented information that gives absolute clarity about where their money goes and what their support for that organisation achieves. Many charities have a simple page on their website called ‘where your money goes’ which ensures that this information is accessible to the general public.

2

Communicate effectively

Charities need to draft thorough, considered communications strategies that speak to their stakeholders honestly through the mediums and channels they use. Storytelling is crucial. For charities to connect with the public, whose support they rely on, they need to start telling stories about the positive differences their work has made to people’s lives. It’s important the public feel they are part of these conversations: that they are being talked with, rather than to.

3

Know your risks

A risk register is incredibly useful starting point. The register should contain a matrix of potential risks and their impact, organised in a ‘traffic light’ system and cover everything that could affect the charity, from data loss and financial problems to bomb scares and power cuts. It’s all about preparation and assessment – identifying the worst-case scenarios and implementing clear policies from the top down. It’s worth remembering though that the risk register is just the first step – the most important thing is that senior staff and the trustee board are keeping a watchful eye on any issues that might flare up and are having active and engaged discussions about how to manage risk.

4

Be prepared to manage a crisis

Where there are difficult questions about the way organisations work – charities should be as open and honest as possible and, if they get things wrong, be clear about the steps they will take to rectify the situation. Understanding who might need to be involved in responding to a reputational issue is useful and you should take the time to explore the risks you face and how you might explain your actions to a sceptical journalist. Where possible, act ahead of time and mitigate any risks you foresee becoming an issue for your organisation.

5

Understand data protection

The risk of a sensitive data leak or malicious security hack is one of the biggest threats to a charity’s reputation. A data breach – malicious or otherwise – is not only a huge risk to a charity’s reputation but can also carry devastating financial consequences. Develop a clear policy on collecting, handling and storing data, ensuring it is communicated to staff at all levels.

It is also important to make sure that any partner agencies you work with are meeting your data policies and standards. Remember, outsourcing your data to any agency for any purpose doesn’t absolve you of responsibility for its protection.

Further information

This guide was written by Ron Moody, Head of Consultancy at Connect Assist

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Page last edited Mar 24, 2017 History

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