Oxfam’s approach to reputation management “exposed the charity to undue risk”
CIPR echoes the concerns raised by the Chair of the Charity Commission about the conduct of Oxfam in their handling of allegations against members of staff operating in Haiti.
The Charity Commission report says that senior executives believed that encouraging and facilitating the resignation of the Country Director was the best way manage the reputational risk to the organisation and minimise the disruption to its humanitarian programmes, instead of making them subject to formal disciplinary procedures.
The report states:
“The actions and approach taken on handling exposed the charity to undue risk. Now that the wider context and circumstances leading up to the resignation have been scrutinised and are known, it is clear the approach Oxfam GB took exposed the charity to concerns that it did not disclose the full picture at the time and/or diverted attention away from material relevant information, namely that there were concerns about the conduct of the same member of staff who was stepping forward to take responsibility for others’ conduct.”
The report goes onto say: “Focusing on avoiding negative or critical media coverage when incidents have happened will not fulfil the trustees’ duty to protect a charity’s reputation, nor serve the shared responsibility to uphold the reputation of charity as a whole.”
A decision was made at Oxfam to pursue a course of action that ultimately failed to discharge their duties and did not meet public expectations of their role as a charity. Reputations are earned and maintained through effective operations that are managed with integrity and openness. Putting media coverage ahead of governance duties and moral responsibilities is always going to be more damaging than doing the right thing, however disruptive it may have been. Public relations professionals have a role in challenging such decisions, by bringing the perspective of the outside world into the organisation and reflecting the concerns of stakeholders in the decision making process. This is one of the ways in which public relations builds and protects value.
PR professionals in any organisation, but especially in the not-for-profit sector, should reflect on the Charity Commission report.
About the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR)
Founded in 1948, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) is the Royal Chartered professional body for public relations practitioners in the UK and overseas. The CIPR is the largest membership organisation for PR practitioners outside of North America. By size of turnover and number of individually registered members, we are the leading representative body for the PR profession and industry in Europe.
The CIPR advances professionalism in public relations by making its members accountable to their employers and the public through a code of conduct and searchable public register, setting standards through training, qualifications, awards and the production of best practice and skills guidance, facilitating Continuing Professional Development (CPD), and awarding Chartered Public Relations Practitioner status (Chart.PR).