Scandal Can Destroy a Charitable Organization


It should not come as a surprise to any organization, charitable or otherwise, that a scandal about the leaders, especially how they have used funds inappropriately, can have a powerfully negative impact on the organization. If people feel their donations have been used by leaders or the organization in a way that doesn’t benefit the people or cause at the center of the charity, they’ll feel betrayed and yank their support out from under the organization without delay.

If the situation is egregious in the way that the recent Oxfam sex abuse scandal is, then it could easily put an end to the possibility of any good work being accomplished. Once the Oxfam scandal came to light, 1,200+ people pulled their monthly direct debit deposits to the charity – all in just three days. Those donations would have totaled about $144K annually. Or looking at it another way, that is about two months’ worth of contributions.

That’s just the individual donations, but several corporate sponsors for the charity have announced that they are looking at their relationship with Oxfam with the possibility of pulling their donations and support as well.

Is it any wonder? News leaked out that while working in Haiti, senior staff used prostitutes. Oxfam is a humanitarian charity with the goal of helping the poorest people in the world, but no one supposed that help would be by taking advantage of them. Worse, as much as £30 million of Government funding could be taken away. The government is a little more forgiving, at least up front in allowing the charity to prove they are taking the necessary steps to deal with the problem and get a better grip on the PR disaster it has become.

Priti Patel, a former aid minister, said: “The abuse and crimes committed by aid workers are horrendous, with safeguarding concerns and failures in both Oxfam’s international division and in their domestic operations letting down victims.” She also called for the CEO, Mark Goldring to resign. The assistant administrator of the charity, Penny Lawrence, has already left the organization. But Patel does not believe that is sufficient, saying: “Heads of all organi[z]ations are ultimately responsible and accountable for the actions and inactions that happen which cause serious harm to others and it is now time for Oxfam to have a clear out at the top. This scandal has been mishandled from the start and Mark Goldring needs to step down so Oxfam can rebuild their reputation and focus on helping the poorest in the world.”

This scandal came to light because at least one of the people with Oxfam, Helen Evans, it’s former head of safeguarding, showed how teenage volunteers had been abused. After that more information came to light.

When an organization faces this type of scandal, it is tempting to cover it up. But doing so only causes more problems down the road. If you discover a problem in the ranks, it’s time to do something about it. Make it public once you’ve found the truth, and let people know how you are dealing with the situation, so it does not continue, and the people who were hurt are being helped.

The world we live in just doesn’t allow for covering things up. Deal with it in the open, be transparent, apologize as needed, and present the plan for moving forward.

Ronn Torossian is the Founder and CEO of the New York based public relations firm 5WPR: one of the 20 largest PR Firms in the United States.

Ronn Torossian with Tyson Beckford
Ronn Torossian, CEO of 5WPR with Tyson Beckford
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Ronn Torossian is the Founder, President and CEO of New York-based 5W Public Relations. He has overseen the company's rapid growth and expansion to the Inc. 500 list, as well as provided counsel to hundreds of companies, including members of the Fortune 500, Inc. 500 and Forbes 400. His work spans global interests, corporate entities, high-profile individuals, regional business entities, government agencies and academic institutions - both on routine public relations matters and extremely sensitive issues. One of the foremost public relations experts in the U.S., Torossian is known for his aggressive, results-focused orientation, as well as his close working relationships with members of the media, influencers, decision makers, politicians and celebrities. At 5W Public Relations, Torossian's client experience has included programs for Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Anheuser-Busch, Barnes & Noble, Cantor Fitzgerald, IHOP, McDonald's, Evian, EDS, VeriSign, XM Radio, Seagram's, The Loews Regency, Bad Boy Worldwide Entertainment, Marriott Hotels, Vail Resorts, Pamela Anderson, Snoop Dogg, the Government of Israel, and others. Referred to by The New York Post as a "publicity guru," by Fox News as a "high-powered PR CEO," by Tyra Banks as a "crisis management guru," and by CNN as "a leading PR expert," Torossian is regularly featured in and quoted by the media, including by CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, NBC, The New York Times, and others. CBS National News said "Ronn Torossian knows spin," and a New York Times feature story on Torossian referred to him as "The consummate hard-driving, scrappy NY publicist." Earlier in his career, Torossian was a Vice President/Group Director for one of The InterPublic Group's (IPG) largest PR agencies, where he was responsible for significant client growth and successful client programs, including work for Clinique, Fox News Channel, DHL, Hard Rock Café and others. A resident of Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Torossian was named to the Advertising Age "40 Under 40" list, PR Week's "40 Under 40" List, is a regular lecturer at universities and conferences, a member of Young Presidents Organization (YPO) and a board member of numerous non-profit organizations.