Friday, February 27, 2009

Let Michael Phelps Help Your Organization

Whew! It's a good thing I decided to make this a collaborative blog! I have been running like a crazy woman this week and couldn't possibly have written all this great content. Besides, it would uber boring if it were just me talking.

For instance, Sandy Rees, is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE), author of Fundraising Buffet and co-author of 7 Essential Steps to Raising Money By mail. She has contributed articles to Advancing Philanthropy, Inside Fundraising Success, and Mal Warwick's newsletter. She is the author of the blog Get Fully Funded and and contributes to Step-By-Step Fundraising. Below she gives sage advice about maintaining a good reputation because your donor dollars depend on it. Bunnie

Let Michael Phelps Help Your Organization

How can Michael Phelps help your nonprofit organization? He may not be able to visit your organization and draw in support, but there’s a good lesson you can learn from his recent negative publicity.

In case you missed it, Michael got in some trouble over a picture of him at a party, having perhaps too good of a time. Whether he’s guilty or not, lots of people have formed opinions and it has certainly tarnished his image and credibility.

I’ve preached for years that a nonprofit has its reputation and not much else. When you depend on donations from the community to support your good work, it only takes a little negative publicity to slow down the donations. Who can afford that in today’s economy? Whether it’s bad word-of-mouth from poor customer service or a full-blown media story that shows your organization in a negative light, it’s PR you don’t need and don’t want! And unfortunately, the public tends to listen to the media and believe the stories without seeking to verify the information or hear the other side.

So take a lesson from Michael: keep your nose clean! Make sure everything your organization does is above board and beyond reproach. Be transparent: be willing to share any information with the public. After all, you should have nothing to hide and lots of your organization’s information is public record anyway. The more willing you are to share information, the more trust you will build with donors and the community.

When you’re making a decision you aren’t sure about, use what I call the ‘Front Page Test.’ If the results of your decision were on the front page of the paper tomorrow, how would people react? What would your donors think? What would your Mother think? The answers to these questions should guide you toward making the right decision.

I remember a story several years ago about a food bank that had a rodent problem. Word got out and the media picked it up. It was not good for their reputation in the community! They had to do a good bit of damage control to do to rebuild trust. Seems like we hear stories regularly (unfortunately) of incidents at day care centers, and the way the media tends to focus on news like this there’s a good chance it will get picked up. Don’t think it won’t ever happen to you!

So, what would be the worst thing that could happen at your organization? Is there something that can be put in place to prevent it from happening? Have you thought through how to handle communications with the public in times of crisis? It’s really worth the time and effort to think through these questions.

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