Five Simple Tactics for Anticipating and Preventing a Reputation Crisis

It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently.


Almost every month, we read about a major non-profit organization facing a challenge to its reputation. Recently, the Boy Scouts of America was required to release the names of scouting volunteers listed on a so-called "perversion list," due to reported child abuse. Despite having two years to prepare for the release of the information, the BSA may sustain irreversible damage to its good name.


Last winter, the Susan G. Komen organization sustained a serious blow to its near stellar reputation when it became known that Komen was no longer funding Planned Parenthood for breast exams. Following a public backlash, founder Nancy Brinker apologized and said that Komen would preserve Planned Parenthood's eligibility for future grants. But the damage was done and funding and race participation are now significantly lower than previous years.


Why do so many non-profit organizations find themselves in trouble with their donors, the media, regulators and political leaders, and, alas, with their clients? This happens primarily because most non-profit leaders and boards are so intensely focused on service delivery, product quality and finances that they often ignore the brand.


Indeed, it is only in the past several decades that the concept of a non-profit "marketing" itself has been accepted as an appropriate executive concern. Today, a successful non-profit brand not only lives its mission but also speaks its mission. Today, donors and directors expect the CEO and others in the organization to manage the brand.


This brief article recommends five steps that any non-profit can implement to protect its brand.


  1. First, consider the brand an asset. Acknowledge the financial value of the brand, if not recorded on the balance sheet, at least as a valued asset. Local affiliates of national organizations pay to be able to display the brand. They should expect the national organization to protect the brand and vice versa.  
  2. Put reputation management and brand protection on the agenda. At SCG, we recommend that the CEO add an agenda item to the meetings of the executive staff as a time to elevate and discuss threats to the brand. Brand protection should also be on the agenda of at least one of the Board level committees. This may fall to the Marketing or Development committee but we recommend that the Audit Committee include protecting the asset value of the brand in its deliberations.    
  3. Create a reputation checklist for every major decision. Identify those stakeholders who are affected positively and negatively by your decisions. Ask how the organization can mitigate the adverse consequences of the decision. Identify those who need to be told in advance and how you will communicate to all audiences. Never assume that a decision that is not publicly communicated will go unnoticed.   
  4. Create an issues anticipation team. This group - generally formed internally and across all disciplines - should meet periodically to raise awareness of issues that could damage the brand. It may also analyze what is happening to similar organizations in other locations and what can be learned from their experiences. This group should look down the road at what is happening internally and externally that will affect your ability to deliver on the mission, including environmental threats, potential regulatory actions, the viability of funding sources, and potential competitive actions where those are important.  
  5. The final and most important guideline in this checklist is to tell the truth. Information - true and false - travels very quickly today. If your organization has done something that is not consistent with your standards or values, confront that action and explain what you are doing to correct it. Your credibility will go a very long way in diffusing a negative situation. And your honesty will ultimately enhance your brand.

These are fairly simple steps that can enhance the awareness of reputation management in your organization, but not an exhaustive list of tactics that can be employed in brand protection. Nor have we addressed the issue of managing a reputation crisis when it occurs. We will take a look at that in a future issue.


Over the next several newsletters, we will include other simple steps that can be added to the tools you have for brand protection. If you would like to talk to us about any issue that you might be confronting, we would be happy to schedule a consultation. Our initial meetings are free and may be all you need to begin to focus on protecting your brand name. It is a cliché but true that this ounce of prevention may be worth a pound of cure.

Synergies in the Community:

Combating Homelessness in Baltimore

Helping a homeless woman with a disabling back injury (we'll call her Sherry to protect her identity) ultimately led Eleanor Carey to join the Leadership Advisory Group of Baltimore City's Homeless Services Program. Headed by Sister Helen Amos, Chair of Mercy Hospital's Board of Trustees, the LAG oversees and raises funds for Baltimore's Journey Home, an ambitious plan to end homelessness in 10 years.


Ellie has helped Sherry obtain disability benefits, join a District Court drug diversion program, overcome addictions to Oxycontin and cocaine, find temporary shelter and begin efforts to find affordable housing.


In the process, Ellie has seen first hand the City's challenges in running an emergency shelter that provides beds for some 275 homeless men and women and is filled to capacity every night. She has also discovered Baltimore Outreach Services in South Baltimore, which shelters, feeds and provides expert counseling for women and children for up to 90 days. The shelter serves some 250 women and children each year.


For the second year in a row, the LAG joined with United Way of Central Maryland in a major fundraising effort. Headlined by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake and singing sensation Jennifer Hudson, this year's benefit raised over $400,000 to fund coordinators who help children in three City homeless shelters stay in school and to help 75 homeless adults develop work skills and find stable housing.


Coming up on November 16 is an opportunity to support Baltimore Outreach Services and its culinary arts training program. For details, go to


Client Feature: Troy Park Tennis Project Update

Over the past few years, Synergies Consulting Group was pleased to provide marketing and communications guidance to the Howard County Tennis Patrons in support of their plans to build a tennis and sports center in Troy Hill Regional Park. The Troy Park Tennis Center, a proposed public-private partnership, would provide 30 indoor and outdoor courts, an 8,000-seat stadium, and a new community venue on parkland leased from Howard County Government.  The location of the Center in Howard County made it an ideal location for major tournaments.


Although funding has not been available in the current economy, the vision, the energy, and the enthusiasm for the project remain. There is a growing demand for courts for the expanding tennis community as well as for space for other sports and recreation opportunities for thousands of County residents, especially in and around the Elkridge area.  

About Us

Synergies Consulting Group provides the leadership and management experience to help clients build more effective and profitable organizations. Our experience informs our solutions.. We listen closely to our clients and devise solutions to meet their specific needs. For more information visit