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Nonprofits face an uphill battle at the end of every year when “Giving Season” hits hard. The needs to balance incoming donations, pursue new and old donors, and meet specific year-end goals seem to pile up in the fourth quarter, and there are likely to be plenty of external factors that are missed in the overwhelm.
One such factor is organizational reputation, or how your nonprofit is perceived by the public. If fundraising teams are having a harder time meeting quotas or trusty givers are suddenly not responding, there might be a reputational issue at stake. Similarly, a random influx of donations could signify positive changes in reputation. Either way, it’s critical that nonprofits understand their outward-facing image, so here’s where to start.
In this article, we’ll explain why your reputation matters during giving season, the impact of your reputation on charitable giving, how to conduct media monitoring to track public sentiment, and ways to safeguard and protect your reputation before a scandal occurs.
Reputation is a major way to build trust with donors and stakeholders. When donors know what to expect of the organization, and understand the ethos and goals, they are more likely to entrust their money to you. Positive reputations can not only attract donors, but also volunteers and partners, helping a nonprofit grow in all aspects.
For instance, when it comes to academic nonprofits, making prestigious ranking lists like the ones from U.S. News & World Report can put a school on the map and encourage alumni to give more during fundraising campaigns. When donors have something to brag about, like their university climbing in the ranks due to a new academic program made possible by donations, they are far more likely to give.
Conversely, if a university has a connection with a problematic partner or has a building named after someone known to have a bad reputation, they could lose funding from other donors who don’t want to be associated with the scandal.
MORE: Attracting a new generation of donors
A nonprofit's reputation influences donor behavior because it can encourage (or discourage) participation. Springer conducted a study using Nexis Uni to generate news reports of nonprofits and analyze how things like media visibility impacted donations. Researchers found that reputation “a significant individual effect on giving behavior.”
A damaged reputation can lead to things like being removed from common donation tools, receiving low ratings on sites like Consumer Reports that influence where people donate or even losing long-standing donors. For example, Oxfam International, a charity created to tackle global poverty, lost over 7,000 donors when its officials faced accusations of sexually assaulting victims of a major Haitian earthquake.
While it might seem like one specific company project wouldn’t impact donations, it’s entirely possible that any poor behavior will result in massive financial loss.
So, how can fundraising teams get ahead of reputation issues? Media monitoring is the answer to ensuring teams know exactly how their nonprofit is being perceived, so that they can nip any rising issues in the bud or jump on positive news to gain more donations.
Media monitoring, by definition, means keeping an eye on all the times your organization is mentioned across the news and internet, and analyzing that for sentiment and larger strategy. Tools like the Nexis Newsdesk scan thousands of news entities and generate automatic alerts to give you real-time information when your company is mentioned, and they also compile larger reports that can be shared cross-company so everyone is in the loop about reputation.
The practice of media monitoring can flag important stories long before they even become impactful on donations. For instance, a fundraising team at a university could get a notification that one of their professors was mentioned by a major news source as a leading voice in the realm of politics. This positive press might not have otherwise made it to the team but is a reason for donors—and especially politically engaged alumni—to give more money to the institution.
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Strategies like media monitoring help protect a nonprofit’s reputation, both during Giving Season and beyond it. While it might seem like a hard task, there are plenty of ways to proactively protect one’s public image throughout the year.
Here are just a few strategies to implement for nonprofits who are ready to be on top of their reputation.
No matter what happens that might risk public outcry or donor loss, it’s important to have a communication plan in place. That could mean compiling a list of important donors and stakeholders who should be alerted immediately when something goes wrong, composing a team of public relations responders who respond to a donor scandal or even drafting email communications for potential issues.
Staying ahead of one’s reputation also means knowing exactly who you’re in business with. Donor due diligence is important not only for matters of public perception, but also to avoid legal issues like receiving money from a sanctioned country.
Knowing who your donors are, and being on top of any actions they might take that could hurt your reputation, is crucial.
Having an outline of what to do in times of crisis can help all members of the task force be prepared for anything. Employees should know their exact role in crisis communications management, whether it’s alerting donors or pausing social media posts, so that everyone is able to jump into action if and when problems arise.
Apart from the donors and stakeholders who might need to be alerted personally, there is also the larger online audience to consider when it comes to crisis management. Social media followers, blog readers, YouTube watchers, and more should be considered so that it doesn’t seem like one arm of the company is ignoring or sugar-coating a major issue.
All the above strategies funnel into the larger concept of transparency, which is paramount to public image. Organizations found at fault for any potential crisis—whether it’s an employee being accused of misconduct, a donor going through public ousting, etc.—should hold accountability in high regard.
Owning up to your mistakes and not brushing them under the rug will build trust with the public, and it’s important to pair that practice with direct action. Nonprofits facing public crises should come up with plans of action to distill the current issue and prevent future problems, and their followers and donors should be kept aware of any developments.
MORE: Adopting due diligence: How to begin your donor due diligence strategy
During Giving Season, donors tend to be on the hunt for ways to spend their hard-earned money and turn it into something positive. That might mean Googling charities or revisiting organizations that have been important to them in the past, all of which requires seeing up-to-date reports on how those nonprofits are faring. And reputation could be a make-or-break factor for those choices.
Even outside of Giving Season, reputation is one of the biggest things donors consider when choosing where to provide funds, so it’s crucial for nonprofits to be aware of, and on top of, reputational changes.
Tools like Nexis Newsdesk and Nexis Diligence, combined with thorough donor research using Nexis for Development Professionals, provide 24/7 alerts that can immediately clue employees in on potential pitfalls or positive news that is worth addressing. Taking the steps to confront public crises head-on, communicate through every issue and maintain a positive public image is one of the most important jobs of any fundraising employee.