The Blog

May 5th, 2022Articles, UncategorizedGeoffrey Hand 0 Comments


How secure do you feel about your charity’s reputation? Have you taken all the steps you can to protect your organisation from a damaging turn of events? And to prepare in case the worst ever did happen?

Great British charities

  • Amnesty International UK
  • Oxfam
  • Save the Children

 These are household charity names. Great charity profiles. Instant recognition through great reputations. Great charities. Until something goes badly wrong.

Trust and reputation                

Charities such as these form the fabric of our society. As if public property. Charities great and small engender loyalty, even affection. All of it based on trust. Trust in a charity comes from the charity’s reputation, a charity’s precious but most delicate asset.

Charity Commission

One of the Charity Commission’s statutory duties is to promote the public’s trust in the charity sector. The Commission is effectively the guardian of the collective reputations of individual charities. Such as yours. This is why every charity trustee has a legal duty to protect and preserve their own charity’s reputation.

One strike …………

Amnesty’s reputation is both its shield and its sword. Amnesty is a superb charity. It is internationally famous for its fearless promotion of human rights around the world. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is its watch-word. Amnesty is a charity I have admired and supported personally for years.

………..and you are out

“Amnesty International UK ‘exhibits institutional racism’, investigation finds” – so reported Rebecca Cooney of Third Sector Governance magazine on 5th April 2022. Her report discloses “allegations of racism and of a toxic culture by former staff and former board members”. A major threat to Amnesty’s reputation.

In or out?

Amnesty’s charity trustees commissioned an independent investigation from Global HPO, an HR consultancy, which is yet to report in full.  So what now of Amnesty’s charity reputation? In, out or on hold?

Not the first

As is only too well known, Amnesty’s problems are not unique. Two famous charities, Oxfam and Save the Children, have had their previously fine reputations sullied. Both of them in 2018. The news of each of them breaking catastrophically within a few days of each other, Oxfam on 9th and Save the Children on 18th February 2018 respectively.

Oxfam staff were involved in sexual abuse of local people in Haiti. For Save the Children it was sexual harassment of its staff in the UK. Top officials in both charities resigned over leadership failures. Both charities acknowledged deep cultural problems within their respective organisations.

Both charities have been working for years now, trying to redress the reputational damage they suffered at their own hands. They have yet fully to succeed. Amnesty, in very different circumstances, is only just on the starting line.

A five-step Charity Reputation Management Plan

Step 1 – Re-visit your charity governance criteria.

Charity governance today is about much more than strategy, regulation and compliance. It is increasingly about the culture, ethos and profile of your charity. Call it Culture Management. Make it happen by adopting the Charity Governance Code. Search the Code for these keywords and focus your action on them:

  • Behaviour
  • Culture
  • Integrity
  • Legitimacy
  • Relationships
  • Respect
  • Standards
  • Trust
  • Values

Each of them is an essential component of your charity’s reputation.

Step 2 – Be diligent as to your legal duties as charity trustees.

Especially as to properly managing and protecting your charity’s reputation. Refer your fellow trustees to the Charity Commission’s Guide CC3 “The essential trustee: what you need to know, what you need to do”. Remind them of their legal responsibility.

Step 3 – Review your charity’s Risk Management policy.

  • Ensure it includes the risk of damage to your charity’s reputation.
  • Consider the public perception of your charity.
  • Assess the likelihood of adverse publicity.
  • Evaluate its probable impact.
  • Rank the risk accordingly.
  • Monitor it regularly, asking “has anything happened to influence our policy or that puts our reputation at greater risk?”.

Set a forward date for your charity’s next Risk Management policy review. Join NCVO and enter it in your charity’s Management Calendar .

Step 4 – Be prepared.

  • Every charity should have its own Reputation Action Plan in case the worst should happen.
  • Your charity’s Reputation Action Plan will depend on its size and nature.
  • A large corporate charity’s Reputation Action Plan will be very different from that of the great majority – small and medium-sized, local, or regional charities.

Set your trustee board a visualisation exercise – make it imaginative and “worst case”. Plan accordingly. Identify actions and allocate roles. Prioritise communications, especially social media. Be authentic. Show strong leadership. Take responsibility in good time. Keep stakeholders onside. Reputation damage is always a Serious Incident to be reported to the Charity Commission.

Step 5 – Beware”going it alone”.

A reputation crisis can take your charity straight into a media spot-light. Not a place for amateurs or the faint-hearted. Charity trustees are obliged to “recognise and acknowledge when they need professional advice”. So buy in the skills you need:

This way you will put your own charity trustee reputation beyond reproach.

Get in touch

I am here to help, do contact me at or on 07914 005 327 to discuss.

The following two tabs change content below.

Geoffrey Hand

Geoffrey Hand is a charity governance consultant, offering governance consultancy and training. He also provides legal services management, helping charities get better value for money from their lawyers. Geoffrey has extensive experience in the charity and legal worlds, and his mission is to help charities deliver good governance.

Comments are closed.