Charities need to be human when things go wrong, Tim Toulmin told Third Sector’s event on crisis planning.
Charities should not be frightened to publicly apologise if something has gone badly wrong in the organisation, a PR expert has advised.
Speaking at Third Sector’s event on crisis planning yesterday, Tim Toulmin, director of the PR firm Alder, said that during a crisis charities should be “human” and make an apology as soon as possible if the situation warranted one.
“When something has gone wrong, when someone has been inconvenienced or hurt or let down, it is just a pure human need to be apologised to,” he said.
“So don’t be afraid of doing that, if that’s the case, and don’t be afraid of doing that quickly.”
He said many charities were nervous that any apology for their mistakes could lead to consequences with their lawyers or insurance firm, but added that most of the time insurers and solicitors would be supportive.
Toulmin also said charities should accept that in the early stages of a crisis, the media probably knew more about the situation than the charity.
Therefore, Toulmin said, communications teams and senior staff should be aware that “any false reassurances at this point make hostages to fortune which will come back to make matters worse”.
Charities must also ensure they make a response to any allegations during a crisis, even if this was a holding statement while staff tried to ascertain facts put to them by journalists.
“You hardly get any time before you are defined as incompetent or complicit,” Toulmin said. “In fact, silence is taken as an acceptance of the issue, even if that is totally unfair.”
Also speaking at the event, Polly Kettenacker, deputy head of external affairs at the Charity Commission, said charities’ attitude to crises could have an impact on the regulator’s response.
She said that if charities were seen to be cooperative and trying to deal with the situation, “that will determine in part our regulatory response”, and that sometimes the commission’s response was prompted by concerns about the charity’s reaction to an incident, rather than the incident itself.
She also told charities to ensure they demonstrate they recognised the gravity of an incident, and avoid putting it in the context of their other work when discussing the incident in public.