Communication in the age of transparency: 6 things NGOs can do to build trust with donors and the public

By Flavie Halais 16 November 2015

What can organizations do to avoid communication pitfalls and design effective communication strategies? Photo by: audio-luci-store.it / CC BY

When the American Red Cross came under fire last summer for its mismanagement of relief and development programs in Haiti, the way the organization chose to handle the crisis reads like a case study of a failed communication strategy.

ARC’s response consisted of sharing the same broad figures that reporters had criticized for being misleading, and avoided addressing accusations of wasted funds and unreasonable overhead costs. The nonprofit organization also failed to explain the reason it only “built six homes” was because aid organizations in Haiti were aligning themselves with the government’s national housing strategy that promoted homeowner-supported reconstruction.

ARC has found itself at the center of several other controversies in the past, including its response to hurricanes Sandy and Katrina, its handling of donations to 9/11 survivors, and its screening of donated blood. The organization has often responded to accusations by diminishing the importance of the issues at stake and failing to take full responsibility for its misdeeds.

“If there was a failure in the wake of September 11th, it was in the Red Cross' inability to turn the perspective of the media around,” declared ARC’s then-CEO Marsha Johnson Evans.

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About the author

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Flavie Halaisflaviehalais

Flavie Halais is a freelance journalist based in Montreal who covers cities and international social issues. In 2013-2014, Flavie was an Aga Khan Foundation Canada International Fellow, reporting for Nation Media Group in Nairobi, Kenya. She’s also reported from Rwanda, Brazil and Colombia.


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