Metro

  • Written by Nives Dolsak, Stan and Alta Barer Professor in Sustainability Sciences, Director, School of Marine and Environmental Affairs, University of Washington

Like companies, schools and other institutions, nonprofits care deeply about their reputations[1]. Good reputations can help them attract volunteers, funding and staff. Because the opposite is also true, revelations about bad or even illegal actions can have serious consequences.

We are two[2] professors[3] who study nonprofits. We teamed up with Rebecca Scurlock[4], a University of Chicago student of economic development, to see what happened to the reputations of Oxfam and Save the Children[5] after news broke about employees of those two humanitarian aid groups allegedly being involved in sex scandals around the same time.

We looked at how Twitter users talked about these organizations before, during and after the scandals came to light, finding that the reputation of one of the groups bounced back faster than the other.

Restoring the reputations of charities after scandals Actress Dakota Fanning is among the many celebrities who added star power to a Save the Children gala in 2017, before its sexual harassment scandal broke. Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images[6]

Oxfam and Save the Children

Founded in 1942, Oxfam[7] is a global anti-poverty and aid group probably best known for its humanitarian work in low-income countries. Following the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti[8], Oxfam rushed to provide relief in the Caribbean country and also spent years helping with recovery efforts.

Eight years later, The Times of London reported on Feb. 9, 2018 that senior Oxfam staff working in Haiti held sex parties and hired prostitutes[9]. The British newspaper also alleged that Oxfam’s top management covered up an internal report documenting these abuses[10].

More disturbing accusations followed, including allegations that Oxfam employees hired prostitutes[11] in the African country of Chad[12].

The group itself later acknowledged its own misconduct[13].

Soon after, news broke about sexual misconduct by another global nonprofit, Save the Children[14], which helps kids around the world through nutrition, health care, education and resettlement.

The Daily Mail[15] reported, on Feb. 18, 2018, on allegations of sexual harassment by Save the Children’s former policy director Brendan Cox in its London office[16]. Then, the BBC reported additional allegations: that former Save the Children chief executive Justin Forsyth[17] had sexually harassed female employees.

With Oxfam’s Haiti scandal, the U.K.’s Charity Commission[18], the body that oversees charities in England and Wales, opened a formal inquiry[19]. Donations fell[20], corporations withdrew support[21], the U.K. government and the European Commission[22] threatened to cancel their funding (US$44 million[23] and $37 million[24] respectively). The Haitian government [25] kicked Oxfam’s British division[26] out of the country.

In addition, celebrities such as South African Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu[27] and actress Minnie Driver[28] stepped down as Oxfam’s ambassadors. Two years later, the group is still reeling[29] financially.

The harassment allegations took a similar toll on Save the Children, which has acknowledged deep-rooted problems[30] in its own culture[31].

Top officials of both[32] groups[33] resigned over leadership failures, and the British government investigated[34] allegations of sexual misconduct among multiple aid groups and what those organizations were doing to root out these problems. Other groups that have faced similar allegations in recent years include Mercy Corps, World Vision, the Norwegian Refugee Council and Medecins Sans Frontieres[35] (Doctors without Borders), as well as the United Nations’ refugee agency[36], according to Reuters.

This cascade of scandals[37] has led to calls for change across the board[38]. We believe that it’s also causing scandals to affect not just the reputation of the organization at their epicenter, but the reputations of related groups as well.

Restoring the reputations of charities after scandals The Haitian government withdrew the operating permit from Oxfam in 2018, following allegations of the aid group’s sexual misconduct. AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery[39]

Measuring public sentiment on Twitter

Twitter is a social media platform used disproportionately by journalists[40], politicians[41] and other “influencers[42]” who play a big role in shaping public opinion[43]. Its concise format makes it easy for opinions and campaigns to spread quickly.

Twitter’s role in shifting public opinion through the #BlackLivesMatter[44] and #MeToo[45] campaigns inspired us to study its effects on the public perception of charities.

To do this, we tallied the negative and positive tweets about Oxfam and Save the Children on a daily basis over about two months. Then we subtracted the percentage of negative tweets from the percentage of positive tweets to calculate what social scientists call a “sentiment gap[46].”

We measured this daily gap from two weeks prior to the news about the Oxfam allegations until six weeks later. To get a sense of what happened longer-term, we looked at tweets for a week-long period in August 2018 as well.

Because the number of tweets was huge, we used a random sample of a total of about 7,000 of them, ensuring that we had at least 30 tweets every day for both Oxfam and Save the Children.

We also looked for factors that appeared to repair the groups’ reputations.

Restoring the reputations of charities after scandals Oprah Winfrey and Disney CEO Bob Iger took part in a Save the Children’s 100th anniversary event in 2019, after the sexual harassment news died down. Andrew Toth/Getty Images for Save The Children[47]

What happened

Oxfam’s sentiment gap averaged 75% during the two weeks prior to the Haiti exposé, meaning that the number of positive tweets about it far outweighed the negative ones.

That gap plummeted to minus 88% on Feb. 9, and it remained negative for several weeks. Sentiment fluctuated depending on whether there was more bad news about Oxfam, or, in contrast, any coverage highlighting its humanitarian work. Six months later, Oxfam’s reputation measured this way hadn’t fully recovered.

Save the Children’s sentiment gap averaged 73% until Feb. 9 – about the same as Oxfam’s. Because these groups belong to the same sector, the Oxfam scandal may have encouraged the public to suspect problems among all humanitarian nonprofits. That might explain why Save the Children’s sentiment gap shrank a bit on Feb. 9 without any bad news about itself breaking.

On Feb. 18, following allegations specifically about sexual misconduct involving Save the Children’s leadership, public sentiment about that group reflected in tweets began to sour far more. Its sentiment gap plunged to negative 43% on Feb. 20.

Changing the subject

There’s no one way to clean up tarnished reputations. But, as we explained in the academic journal Voluntas[48], changing the topic surely helps.

One good way for nonprofits to change the subject is by drawing attention to important causes connected with their work. For example, in the weeks following the initial expose about Oxfam staff allegedly engaging in sexual abuses, that group tweeted about the World Water Day[49].

Likewise, Save the Children tweeted about the need to protect Syrian children hurt by bombings[50].

The role of celebrities

Another way to do this is with some help from famous friends.

We found no examples of celebrities with large followings praising Oxfam when the Haiti sex scandal broke. In contrast, Save the Children received support from the world-famous Portuguese football player Cristiano Ronaldo[51], who has 82.4 million Twitter followers[52].

Singer-songwriter Camila Cabello[53], who has 10.7 million Twitter followers[54], also tweeted in support of Save the Children.

Unlike what happened with Oxfam, public sentiment toward Save the Children as reflected through Twitter had recovered to prescandal levels within six months.

To be sure, these scandals were vastly different in nature. It’s entirely possible that the public found Oxfam’s sexual abuses of people in low-income countries more repugnant than Save the Children’s sexual harassment incidents in the U.K. In that case, the damage to Oxfam’s reputation would have taken longer to recover no matter what else happened.

Nevertheless, we do believe that having celebrities keep praising Save the Children’s work following damaging revelations played a role in the relatively quick recovery of its reputation.

[ Expertise in your inbox. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter and get a digest of academic takes on today’s news, every day.[55] ]

References

  1. ^ nonprofits care deeply about their reputations (doi.org)
  2. ^ two (scholar.google.com)
  3. ^ professors (scholar.google.com)
  4. ^ Rebecca Scurlock (www.linkedin.com)
  5. ^ Oxfam and Save the Children (doi.org)
  6. ^ Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images (www.gettyimages.com)
  7. ^ Oxfam (www.oxfam.org)
  8. ^ 2010 earthquake in Haiti (www.history.com)
  9. ^ held sex parties and hired prostitutes (www.civilsociety.co.uk)
  10. ^ report documenting these abuses (www.oxfam.org)
  11. ^ employees hired prostitutes (www.independent.co.uk)
  12. ^ African country of Chad (www.theguardian.com)
  13. ^ group itself later acknowledged its own misconduct (www.weforum.org)
  14. ^ Save the Children (www.savethechildren.net)
  15. ^ The Daily Mail (www.dailymail.co.uk)
  16. ^ its London office (www.dailymail.co.uk)
  17. ^ Save the Children chief executive Justin Forsyth (www.bbc.com)
  18. ^ U.K.’s Charity Commission (www.gov.uk)
  19. ^ formal inquiry (www.gov.uk)
  20. ^ Donations fell (www.civilsociety.co.uk)
  21. ^ corporations withdrew support (www.telegraph.co.uk)
  22. ^ the European Commission (www.theguardian.com)
  23. ^ US$44 million (www.cnn.com)
  24. ^ $37 million (www.theguardian.com)
  25. ^ Haitian government (www.nytimes.com)
  26. ^ British division (www.oxfamamerica.org)
  27. ^ South African Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu (www.telegraph.co.uk)
  28. ^ Minnie Driver (www.cnn.com)
  29. ^ group is still reeling (www.oxfordmail.co.uk)
  30. ^ acknowledged deep-rooted problems (www.bbc.com)
  31. ^ own culture (www.theguardian.com)
  32. ^ both (www.theguardian.com)
  33. ^ groups (www.bbc.com)
  34. ^ British government investigated (reliefweb.int)
  35. ^ Mercy Corps, World Vision, the Norwegian Refugee Council and Medecins Sans Frontieres (www.reuters.com)
  36. ^ United Nations’ refugee agency (www.reuters.com)
  37. ^ cascade of scandals (www.theguardian.com)
  38. ^ calls for change across the board (doi.org)
  39. ^ AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery (www.apimages.com)
  40. ^ journalists (www.poynter.org)
  41. ^ politicians (www.people-press.org)
  42. ^ influencers (blog.commonwealth.com)
  43. ^ shaping public opinion (doi.org)
  44. ^ #BlackLivesMatter (www.politico.com)
  45. ^ #MeToo (twitter.com)
  46. ^ sentiment gap (doi.org)
  47. ^ Andrew Toth/Getty Images for Save The Children (www.gettyimages.com)
  48. ^ academic journal Voluntas (doi.org)
  49. ^ World Water Day (blogs.oxfam.org)
  50. ^ Syrian children hurt by bombings (www.savethechildren.org)
  51. ^ Cristiano Ronaldo (twitter.com)
  52. ^ 82.4 million Twitter followers (twitter.com)
  53. ^ Camila Cabello (twitter.com)
  54. ^ who has 10.7 million Twitter followers (twitter.com)
  55. ^ Expertise in your inbox. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter and get a digest of academic takes on today’s news, every day. (theconversation.com)

Authors: Nives Dolsak, Stan and Alta Barer Professor in Sustainability Sciences, Director, School of Marine and Environmental Affairs, University of Washington

Read more https://theconversation.com/restoring-the-reputations-of-charities-after-scandals-130639

Metropolitan republishes selected articles from The Conversation USA with permission

Visit The Conversation to see more

Entertainment News

Musik Radio Promotions - Opening the World For Indie Artists Music

Industry without inspiration never leaves a lasting impact. Hard work and discipline often produce a reliable product but, without the spark of love behind its creation, posterity will take a dim view of its ultimate worth. Ten years ago, worldwi...

News Company - avatar News Company

The Musical Journey of Lamont Dozier, Jr.

I was quite young when music entered my life. Music always had a role in my household, being that my mother, Elizabeth Ann Dozier, was a musician and the choir director for the church that I and my sisters grew up in. My mother also taught clas...

Lamont Dozier, Jr. - avatar Lamont Dozier, Jr.

Actor Thorn Castillo is the “New Face of Schick”

Last year, just after my acting and modeling career had started taking off, I heard some interesting advice from Robert Downey Jr. during an interview on Sam Jones’ series “Off Camera.” Talking about his own early experiences, he said something l...

Thorn Castillo - avatar Thorn Castillo

SHERYL LEE RALPH 2020 Creative and Political Projects

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on our day to day lives – but Tony nominated and Spirit Award winning actress/activist Sheryl Lee Ralph is booked and busy with her ongoing slate of dynamic TV, literary, political and entrepreneurial projects, revealin...

News Company - avatar News Company

GREYE RELEASES MUSIC VIDEO TO SUPPORT ACCLAIMED NEW SINGLE

Greye’s explosive new single “So Far So Good” is the perfect intro to the band’s new, harder-edged direction, an amped up way to experience all the dynamic elements Greye is known for.This explosive new single “So Far So Good” is the perfect intr...

News Company - avatar News Company

GLORIA LORING RETURNS WITH “THE BEST OF ME” SEPTEMBER 18th

GLORIA LORING The Best of Me   There is something beautiful about artists whose insight into the human condition allows them to create works that, even beyond their original intention, emotionally and intuitively meet the moment and help us ...

News Company - avatar News Company

Metropolitan Business News

MODEL/ACTOR THORN CASTILLO IS THE “NEW FACE” OF SCHICK STYLIST

In 2019, just as his multi-faceted career was taking off, Thorn Castillo heard Robert Downey Jr. offer a sage bit of advice during an interview on photographer/director Sam Jones’ acclaimed multi-...

News Company - avatar News Company

New Research Highlights Opportunities for Sports Betting

Revenue Stream for Sports’ Post-COVID-19 Recovery Strategies New Rochelle, NY, June 1, 2020— Twenty-four states have now legalized sports betting, with more states considering legalization la...

Len Stein - avatar Len Stein

How to make overseas transfers easier?

Mainstream banks can charge as much as $20 just to process a basic international money transfer. Fortunately, today people are not doomed to handling personal finances only through mainstream gl...

News Company - avatar News Company

The flourishing international market of fragrance and perfume

There is something special and unique about the art of fragrance. This is a big world and there are quite literally a lot of smells around at any given time. In fact, as one of the five human senses i...

News Company - avatar News Company

Impact of good marketing on sales

Sales and marketing are brothers as they go hand and in hand. The job of both of these departments is to generate revenue so that an organization can make money. A company that does not generate rev...

News Company - avatar News Company

7 effective tips for increasing sales in retail

It seems that retailers have drawn a difficult lot in the 21st century: competition from online retail is growing steadily. After all, Internet retailers can sell your products at significantly lowe...

News Company - avatar News Company

Writers Wanted


News Company Media Core

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion