Reputation & Your Nonprofit

Brook Zimmatore | May 28, 2015

In your nonprofit, as in all businesses, the tiniest whiff of a juicy rumor can cause a snowball. In a for-profit business, these snowballing reputation issues can cause a reduction in sales, a possible boycott, and even in some cases, issues with vendors or suppliers. In a nonprofit organization, that same snowball can cause a reduction in donations, investigation by law enforcement or charity watchdog groups, and even a reduction in the people or agencies seeking your assistance.

Susan G. Komen

The Susan G. Komen foundation is a nonprofit centered on breast cancer. They are notable in their massive efforts to use corporate partnerships as a fundraising method. In 2012, Komen cut off funding for Planned Parenthood, which is the largest provider of women’s health services in the United States.

The short-term scandal over Komen’s refusal to continue providing funding for Planned Parenthood created a lot of publicity over the Susan G. Komen foundation. While this individual incident would have burned out pretty quickly, all the publicity quickly created additional problems for the organization.

The Susan G. Komen foundation came under fire for giving only 20% of all donations raised to research, and for paying their CEO $684,000, a salary that most charity watchdog groups state as too high. The next year, donations for the Susan G. Komen foundation had dropped by 22%, costing the nonprofit more than $35 million in annual revenue.

Wounded Warrior Project

The Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) is a nonprofit that specializes in helping U.S. military veterans who were wounded in combat. They’re recognized by the U.S. Congress as a Veterans Service Organization and have been hosted at the White House, as well as having programs and services on a number of U.S. military installations throughout the country.

They have also been the focal point of a number of controversies. One recurring theme with WWP is that they have attempted to stay away from politics, and that abstention has drawn the ire of many veterans. Their policies state that any fundraising events for WWP cannot be religious in nature, and they have declined to participate in media interviews or activities that are pro-gun.

The second major controversy that WWP has repeatedly fallen into is that of their proclivity for filing lawsuits. WWP has filed lawsuits against veterans organizations which use the phrase “wounded warrior” in their name (a very common appellation for combat-injured veterans), and against other bloggers and journalists who have printed or reprinted defamatory information about their charity.

Two Sides of the Same Coin

The Susan G. Komen foundation is no stranger to politics, especially regarding issues of women’s health and abortion. But it’s important to note that the long-term damage to the organization resulted not from the political fiasco but from fundamental problems with their charity’s structure. WWP has worked very hard to avoid politics, and that avoidance has created additional problems for them.

Donors, corporate partners, beneficiaries, and the general public often have a very simplistic view of charities and nonprofit organizations. Specifically, they tend to believe that every dollar they give will go toward the organization’s chief aims and mission.

Donors expect that if they donate $100, the full $100 (or at least $95 of it) will go toward researching treatments, cures, or prevention of breast cancer. While this is unrealistic, an organization that spends less than 50% on their primary mission will often draw the ire of stakeholders. When this low mission spending is paired with a CEO salary that appears “excessive”, it creates a feeling by donors that the charity is diverting money from their donations to executive compensation.

But WWP’s handling of their negative publicity (through lawsuits) engenders anger at the organization, especially in the close-knit subculture of American veterans. In some cases, a lawsuit is necessary to protect the reputation and integrity of the nonprofit.

But in other cases, a social media campaign, press releases, or other public relations and reputation management techniques may be a more favorable option. Massive will carefully study your case and suggest reputation management options to resolve it all. With a range of ORM solutions, you will be able to control and dictate your reputation and PR image.

CEO / Co-Founder
Brook Zimmatore is the Co-Founder & CEO at Massive.