Skip to main content
main content, press tab to continue

How to protect your reputation in the charity and aid sector

September 6, 2022

In this article we look at the five main risks to reputation facing charities and aid organizations. We’ll help you understand each of them and take the first step towards reducing your risk.

More than most organizations, charities and non-government organizations (NGO) are judged by the values they stand for.

Any failure to uphold those values, whether real or perceived, can dent the public’s trust and lead to a fall in donations and grants.

Once damaged, reputation can be hard to repair.

In a time when news and opinions travel fast, any negative incidents can quickly spread, go viral and even hit the mainstream news.

Having the proper tools, strategies, training, and insurance in place can help you head off these risks before they arise and avoid serious damage.

Five key risks

We believe that there are five key risks to the reputations of charities and non-government organizations (NGOs):

  • Discriminatory attacks or abuse on beneficiaries
  • Abduction or physical abuse of minors or vulnerable people
  • Animal abuse
  • Employee abuse relating to equal opportunities, discrimination, working conditions or safety
  • Disgrace of a celebrity endorser
  1. 01

    Discriminatory attacks or abuse of beneficiaries

    Charities exist to improve the lives of those they serve. Belief in this mission is what motivates people to donate their time, money, and energy to supporting the cause.

    If instead, a charity is found or perceived to be causing harm to its beneficiaries, the impact on reputation can be devastating.

    You can reduce this risk if you have clear safeguarding policies that are followed across the organization.

    These should be in writing, available to all members of staff and clearly understandable to any member of staff or volunteer, leaving no room for doubt about what is and is not acceptable behaviour.

    Regular training can also help build a culture where abuse is not tolerated and where the correct reporting and investigation processes are clearly defined and understood.

  2. 02

    Abduction or physical abuse of minors or vulnerable people

    Charities and NGOs have a special role in protecting those who cannot protect themselves.

    If a child or vulnerable adult is abused or abducted while in the organization’s care, that is a fundamental breach of trust that could lead to a reputation being damaged beyond repair.

    To prevent this happening, it’s vital to understand and comply with safeguarding legislation and regulation.

    You should carry out due diligence and background checks on all employees and volunteers – not just those who work directly with service users but anyone who has access to them or their information.

    If an incident does happen, have a clear crisis communication plan to help you control the situation, including what to say when and how to avoid impulsive actions that could make the situation worse.”

    David Bennett | Director, Direct and Facultative, WTW

    If an incident does happen, have a clear crisis communication plan to help you control the situation, including what to say when and how to avoid impulsive actions that could make the situation worse.

    This is critical because the way in which an organization responds will impact their reputation almost as much as the incident itself.

  3. 03

    Animal abuse

    Animal welfare is always high on the public agenda. This can be good for the charities that protect them, but it also shines a brighter light on any abuses.

    As well as rescue and anti-cruelty charities, organizations with charitable status that look after animals, such as zoos, aquariums and sea parks, can be held up to scrutiny.

    Medical charities, that use animals as part of their research, are also increasingly questioned by the public.

    All of these organizations run the risk of reputational damage if poor standards of care or abuse come to light.

    Robust internal policies and procedures must be in place with adequate channels for reporting.

  4. 04

    Employee abuse

    As well as protecting those they serve, charities need to make sure they treat everyone who works or volunteers for them fairly and with respect.

    In recent years we’ve seen that cultures of sexism, racism and homophobia can be just as prevalent in charities and NGOs as in any other sector.

    Organizations in the spotlight have been forced to admit that they enabled abuse and silenced victims, leaving many people unable to speak out.

    Highlighting and acknowledging that such a culture exists is the first step to rebuilding trust.

    Organizations must also look at their policies and procedures to make sure employees can raise concerns and complaints without fear of repercussions.”

    David Bennett | Director, Direct and Facultative, WTW

    Organizations must also look at their policies and procedures to make sure employees can raise concerns and complaints without fear of repercussions.

    Changing culture can be complex and difficult but not addressing these issues can see public support dwindling, which could ultimately impact organizations’ ability to provide services.

  5. 05

    Disgraced celebrity endorser

    Charities and NGOs rely heavily on well-known figures endorsing their work to increase donations. But this support can come at a high price.

    If the celebrity is disgraced, whether connected to their charity role or not, they can damage your reputation by association.

    In the worst cases, celebrities have directly involved the charity, by using their platform as a front for exploitation or abuse.

    Charities and NGOs must carry out due diligence background checks on all endorsers to check for any previous incidents that might increase the risk of partnering with them.

    They should also make sure the celebrity understands safeguarding policies and practices.

    This should be backed up with contractual agreements and appropriate insurance.

    We’re also seeing some organizations refusing to accept donations from high profile individuals if they suspect it may have been earned unethically, or if the celebrity is donating in order to repair their own damaged reputation.

    There is regulation around when charities can refuse donations, so organizations need to be aware of these before choosing to decline.

Staying on top of your reputation

When incidents occur that could damage your reputation, knowing how to manage and ultimately overcome the fallout is key to maintaining a good reputation.

From having a strong initial response to show you’re handling the situation, to taking action to avoid future incidents and paying fines or accepting liability, customers will scrutinise how you respond to a crisis as much as the crisis itself.

But preventing a situation in the first place is much more difficult and requires businesses to constantly monitor how they’re perceived, whether that’s in the press, on social media or by other organizations they’re associated with.

At WTW, we have a reputational crisis insurance and risk management solution that means you can discover, mitigate, control and repair reputational damage as it happens.

Powered by Polecat, live sentiment and impact analysis means you can stem the tide on reputational damage before an event escalates and be confident that any drop in profit as a result, is covered.

You will also have access to crisis consultants, paid for by insurers, who can advise you when a crisis occurs to help you handle it as effectively as possible.

The insurance element of the product is triggered by the occurrence of a reputational crisis event.

It provides indemnity to protect against the inability to raise donations at the same level as before and the costs of brand rehabilitation, designed to help you recover financially from a crisis.

Book your initial free one-hour consultation meeting today, by dropping us an email using the contact details at the bottom of this page.

During this meeting we would provide you with a preview of your organization's reputational risk profile and start to touch on some of the points mentioned above.

For more information about our reputational crisis insurance and risk management solution and to arrange a free initial consultation, please get in touch.


Dylan Ng
email Email

Related content tags, list of links Article
Contact us