As the shockwaves of Oxfam’s sexual misconduct scandal continue to reverberate painfully throughout the NGO sector and beyond, the charity’s very survival is in doubt. This horrifying story is a brutal wake-up call. Even an organisation built on more than seven decades of inspiring, selfless work by employees, volunteers and supporters can see its reputation quickly trashed when its response to a crisis is botched.
Could anyone have imagined that the words ‘betrayal’, ‘sexual exploitation’, ‘lies’ and ‘cover-up’ would be used to describe a charity such as Oxfam? I’m afraid the answer is yes. This is the job of journalist media trainers. We (very easily) imagine the worst PR nightmares of all kinds of organisations and prepare them to withstand the inevitable tsunami of media scrutiny.
It’s clear that no charity can afford to be complacent. Third sector organisations are just as much at risk as any bank, political party or corporate behemoth that doesn’t invest in crisis planning, including crisis media trainin for its communications team and spokespeople. Sadly, every charity will be tainted by the Oxfam tragedy, so every charity should now be asking “What if?” questions about their vulnerability to crises and taking steps immediately to stress-test their responses. I’ve trained third sector and public-sector leadership teams for scenarios such as:
- Criticism from beneficiaries, high-profile individuals, whistle-blowers
- Social media backlash
- Accidental data loss
- Hacking or other sabotage
- Terror attack/activity
- Accidents affecting staff or customers
- Industry issues/news stories creating unwelcome media attention
According to the PwC 2018 Global CEO survey, business leaders believe over-regulation is the most serious threat to their organisations, followed by terrorism, geo-political uncertainty and cyber threats, with terrorism moving from 12th place to 2nd place since the 2017 survey. We can confidently assume that sexual misconduct will be high on that list in next year’s survey. Whether Oxfam will survive its #MeToo crisis is much harder to predict.