Your donors have seen your dirty laundry. Don’t panic.

Updated: Jul 19

This week, a network of organizations I care deeply about had its dirty laundry aired very, very publicly.

Having internal crises made public is incredibly stressful. Not only do you have to manage through it, you have to do all kinds of damage control.

It’s not like when your organization is in crisis because of a global pandemic. Crises driven by external factors have the potential to catalyze support for your organization.

Internal dramas or scandals, on the other hand, are self-inflicted wounds that undermine trust in your organization and have the potential to drive supporters away.

Donors invest in your organization because they care about the impact you have in the world. Internal conflicts distract from mission. And they distract from impact.

When that happens, investors in your organization—your donors—will rightfully get very, very nervous about whether you are the right investment for them.

Donors will wonder if you are going to survive the turmoil. They wonder if you can achieve your mission. They are likely to start shopping around to see who else in your space is having impact they care about with more stable management.

So what do you do when an internal crisis becomes an external crisis?

1. Have a vision for moving forward.

Crises happen. What matters is that you have a vision and a plan to fix the problems and emerge from it all stronger than you were before. This is first and foremost what you want to be communicating to your donors.

So be ready to have an answer when you’re asked what you’re going to do now. And make sure every conversation you have pivots to looking forward.

2. Talk to your donors right away.

When we don’t have all the information we need to understand something, we tend to insert our own details. Connect our own dots. Draw our own conclusions. It's human nature, and it’s how our brains are wired.

The same is true for your donors when internal dramas or scandals become public. Even people who know you and your organization will draw their own conclusions in the absence of information from you.

If your significant donors are allowed to draw their own conclusions, it’s unlikely that will work in your favor. If those conclusions build momentum—say on social media or within social circles—no amount of reaching out to them a month or two later will correct misconceptions or pacify their concerns.

It may be that not all of your donors will have heard the news when you contact them. That's ok too. Wouldn’t you rather they heard about it from you, with your message points and your pivot to how you’re moving forward?

3. Be transparent.

No matter how artfully you think you are dodging questions from your donors, your donors know when you’re not being straight with them. A lack of transparency sends the message that you aren’t trustworthy.

If you aren’t trustworthy, you’re not a good investment.