Organizations in Crisis: “Six Strategies for Managing and Avoiding Threats To Your Nonprofit’s Reputation”

By Susan Fields, CFRE

Thursday Morning, May 17, 2018, Scandinavia House, New York City


“It is the duty of all nonprofits to reassure their clients that their contributions are being managed and used responsibly.”

Jennifer Moore, Deputy Director of Fund Development & Finance
Young Audiences New York


“Large bureaucratic organizational structures often lend themselves
to mission drift and a crisis of moral leadership.”

Greg Mann, Executive Director
Grameen PrimaCare



“Get the facts before responding to a situation. It’s what you
think you know that can get you into trouble.”

Seth Perlman, Esq.
Perlman+Perlman, LLC



“The transparency and clarity of your financials will serve
as indicators of your organization’s integrity.”

Joseph Benincasa, Persident & CEO
Actors Fund of America


We have all heard stories of highly respected nonprofits—as well as for-profit businesses and corporations—facing the challenge of protecting their reputation during or in the aftermath of a scandal. This abrupt “fall from grace” can take the form of irresponsible, and often illegal, financial practices or questionable behavior of executive leadership, board, or employees. Although a crisis usually occurs suddenly and unexpectedly, these upheavals are most usually a symptom of dysfunction that has been silently brewing for years or possibly decades. This AFP-NYC Panel Discussion discussed the various steps nonprofits can take to minimize their organization’s vulnerability to crisis and avoid such events whenever possible.

Six Strategies for Managing or Avoiding an Organizational Crisis

  1. A crisis is often made public before the nonprofit knows it occurred. Have plans and policies in place should your organization be faced with an unexpected public relations emergency.
  2. Develop tools in advance for releasing communications for social, print, and television media. Target only the audience that has learned of potential crisis as opposed to “advertising” to those who might never learn about it.
  3. Make sure that your closest supporters hear about the potential problem from your organization first. This allows you to explain what occurred as well as maintain trust should the crisis escalate to a wider audience.
  4. Rather than answer all the questions asked by the media, explain what your organization is doing to resolve the situation in a timely fashion. Emphasize your nonprofit’s ongoing commitment to its mission and values. 
  5. Make sure that your nonprofit’s financials are both clear and understandable. Bureaucracy and complexity can sometimes lead to lack of transparency which can erode the trust of your constituency.
  6. Conflict of interest, breach of ethics, “mission drift”, and failure to keep commitments are the most common causes of a crisis. Once the problem has been abated, hold an intensive review to avoid a recurrence.



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