The Comeback: Three things to do when your organization must respond to scandal


by George Rattin, Associate Vice President, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

A trusted administrator, is caught embezzling funds from your organization…A Board disagreement between your CEO and Board Chair results in a very public resignation and gives the world a glimpse into internal dysfunction…You reject a gift from a donor for the right reasons, but that donor uses the media to lambaste your organization….All these scenarios have happened to nonprofit organizations  While I hope you never have to face these situations, you as a leader of a social impact agency, may one day have to wrestle with these or other issues that begin to erode your public’s trust for your organization.  How do you recover?  How do you stage your comeback?  Here are things you can do to help reestablish public trust:

  1. Adapt your culture – Something within your organization allowed an opportunity for this scandal to happen.  Identify what that was.  Then take steps that address this.  Again, in the case of the first example, does your organization have an open and confidential whistle-blower policy?  Do you have a culture of knowledge–are important details of your organization shared regularly by multiple people?  
  2. Acknowledge the past but focus on the present and future. – Acknowledge the scandalous event, but move quickly to how you are moving forward to move beyond.  There is no hope in the past, that comes from changes made in the present and the future.  Focus on what you are doing differently and the results that come from that.
  3. Be transparent – Whatever, it was, scandal has happened at your organization.  Be clear what has happened.  Outline your plan for how this will not happen again.  Communicate regularly, your progress on implementing new procedures, and the impact of these new behaviors.  For example, in our first example.  Show how new financial oversight, and additional outside counsel is not only ensuring your organizations solid financial operations, but how this increased scrutiny/vigilance may even bring greater efficiency to the organization or perhaps, even better results.

It is important for your organization to learn and grow from this event.  By changing the culture, focusing on the present and future and being transparent in all you do, your organization can take the vital steps forward to rebuild trust with your public and continue to focus on your most-important mission-driven work.


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