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Dealing with public concerns

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Risks to your organisation

Charities and other voluntary organisations are in positions of trust. Safeguarding allegations and concerns are often shocking and can be devastating for the organisation regardless of whether they are true or not. A safeguarding issue can affect the organisation's reputation and make it difficult to rebuild trust with their staff, volunteers and funders and the public.

Shield is a UK-wide homeless charity for young people. A well known and long serving trustee of the charity was found to have been using an illegal immigrant as a housekeeper paying well below the national wage. The charity was made aware of the issue but the trustee was allowed to continue in post. The local press published the story. Although the trustee was dismissed and the charity published a modern slavery statement, the charity lost significant funding in the next year.

You must be aware of the possible consequences to your organisation to make sure you prepare for the risks and manage them with care.

  • Negative media coverage
  • Loss of confidence from people who use your organisation’s services and the public
  • Low staff morale leading to difficulties in recruiting staff, volunteers or trustees
  • Lawsuits creating significant financial pressures for the organisation, especially if they are lengthy
  • Court cases impacting the organisation’s credit rating, reducing the likelihood of securing bank loans.
  • Fundraising being affected with key donors withdrawing support and grassroots fundraising drying up
  • Pressure from the media, trustees, staff and volunteers all wanting to know what happened, why and what you’re doing about it

Your first thought must be about the people you need to keep safe. When you manage sharing information and engaging with the media must think first about how it will impact on those who have been hurt or are at risk of harm. If you respond quickly and well to safeguarding concerns, your organisation has the best chance of keeping people safe. Dealing with queries as transparently as possible avoids loss of trust.

Planning ahead

As CEO, you need to be in a position to respond quickly and decisively to a major safeguarding concern. Having a simple plan that outlines the actions you would take will help you manage the risks. A ‘failure prevention analysis’ is a way to:

  • outline different major safeguarding scenarios that could happen to your organisation
  • use media coverage to help ask the question ‘how could that happen at our organisation?’
  • review and create simple plans for how you would respond to these concerns
  • identify any actions that need to be implemented to reduce the risk of such events occurring in the first place.
Child Mind is a children’s mental health charity. Their trustees were concerned because they felt like there was an increase in the media headlines focusing on safeguarding scandals from the past. The CEO referred to the failure prevention analysis and plan that had been created after similar headlines had occurred a few years ago. They commissioned an independent review of their historical safeguarding records to see whether their procedures had been lacking anywhere or whether they had taken the right steps.

Engaging with the media

Once the media have become aware of a safeguarding concern you need to make sure that you, as CEO, and your trustees, are prepared before answering any questions from them. 

It can be helpful to work with specialists in dealing with the media – your internal communications team should be involved. If you don’t have an internal team, then appointing a PR agency or consultant with experience in safeguarding can make sure you receive support and guidance.

Together you should:

  • agree the key points that you’ll focus on and stick to them
  • agree written statements that can be issued to the media
  • agree who the best person is to be the consistent voice in the media regarding the issue
  • agree joint statements with responsible safeguarding partners that you’re working with – the police, your local authority or safeguarding board, if possible
  • agree how and who will monitor your social media channels
  • decide which senior support will be available on call and out of hours to support an incident involving media attention.

Make sure all other staff know that they may not speak to the media or comment on social media. This can cause misinformation and potentially puts others at risk. 

In a difficult situation, it’s key to look to others for help.

  • Look at how other CEOs have handled themselves. What did they seem to do well and what would you need to do better? Do you know any who could give you advice?
  • Talk to your trustee board. Who may have experience in handling similar scenarios?

Below are some top tips to assist you with managing the communications.

  • Be as honest and factual as you can
  • Be empathetic and compassionate in your tone
  • Be mindful of your body language if interviewed on camera
  • Be as open, candid and accessible as you can
  • Respond in a timely fashion to all requests – keeping the media, staff, volunteers and trustees informed even if there’s little to tell them
  • Be ready to consider introducing additional/dedicated telephone lines or staff cover to manage incoming calls regarding the matter
A staff member for ABC charity was contacted by the press about a recent Twitter post by the lead trustee for safeguarding. The tweet contained inappropriate, sexist remarks about another trustee. The staff member wasn’t aware of the media/communication strategy and told the press their own views about the tweet. Their response went a long way to support the idea that sexism was tolerated in the charity. The CEO, communications team and board of trustees are now engaged in a process of decision making and writing new procedures to try and both deal with the issue and prevent it from happening again.

Our guide to safeguarding for communications and marketing managers has a section focused on managing reputation risk.

Page last edited Sep 30, 2019

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