Who Can You Trust? Start With Your NGOs

Are we really surprised that across four key institutions: Government, Media, Business and NGOs, it’s the latter that’s viewed as truly ethical?

But with trust viewed as being built on competence as well as ethics, the 34,000+ global respondents in the recent annual Edelman Trust Barometer, also highlighted that none of the four excel at both.  

So what can corporate communications experts do to help?

It’s easy to see where NGOs have the advantage on trust. They are founded on purpose, they are all about the vision, and they attract passionate and dedicated employees, who are willing to go over and above for the cause. Corporates who are clambering to communicate the purpose behind their business, to enhance their reputation externally and internally, often can’t match up.

But while we admire the mission and are grateful for the impact they have on communities around the world, NGOs can lack the business acumen of their corporate counterparts, and communications is one area where they can leave themselves exposed.

The Oxfam staff behaviour incident affected their reputation, with donors as well as the public, putting at risk vital support for humanitarian work.  Even the largest and most well-established NGOs will need to deal with large scale reputational crises at times, and the thousands of other smaller operations often don’t have the structures and expertise in place to manage, many relying on funding from government or from philanthropy. From an ethical viewpoint, there are many stakeholders and reputations to consider. 

For the clients I work with across NGOs, not-for-profit and the education sector, the Edelman results reinforce why they should focus on the things which really matter to their publics, and the public. And why transparency in communications rules.

With budgets often a challenge, this sometimes means that communications expertise is seen as a “nice to have”, but more and more its value in establishing and maintaining trust is becoming apparent:

  • A good strategic communicator will identify reputational issues early on – as well as spotting great opportunities for collaboration inside and outside of an organisation.
  • They’ll keep you focused on your purpose – and tell your story in a compelling way. There are numerous ways to get a message out to a global audience without having to defend large spend on advertising or paid search – but it needs to be engaging, timely and relevant.
  • Communications plans prioritise audiences and will identify and analyse stakeholders to make sure the right messages are being sent in the right way, at the right time – all the time helping to build trust and keep reputations intact.
  • Good strategic communicators will remind you that communicating transparently to your internal audience is as important as your external one – in my experience there are few advocates outside the communications team who see the value of employees as brand ambassadors – and with social channels like Glassdoor, internal reputation management has become a fulltime job too.

The Edelman Barometer is a useful reminder of the importance of managing reputation, with digestible pieces of data which can be used to lobby our funders, justify strategic decision making and remember the value of communications in achieving real purpose.