Who would you rather donate to - children's aid? the elderly? To the marginalised? Or to cancer research? Why do you volunteer for an organisation? When are you prepared to recommend an NPO as "worthy of support" or to defend it against malicious tongues? What criteria do you use to decide? If the pictures are pretty and the subject touching? Well, basically you do it when you feel emotionally close to the organisation and when it enjoys a good reputation.
Emotional closeness and reputation are crucial for generating support. The University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland has investigated this in a broad research project with gfs-zürich in relation to non-profit organisations. The weighting of these two dimensions may well vary. Reputation is crucial for generating support through the channel of trust. Above all, however, vision, mission and values count, i.e. what an NPO wants to achieve and what it stands for. This generates an even stronger support mechanism, emotional closeness. Those who feel particularly close to an organisation emotionally are also prepared to overlook mistakes and incongruities in behaviour. This is especially important at a time when the outrage society is repeatedly confronted with negative headlines and critical online comments.
Organisations that have a good reputation, to which one feels close, survive more or less diffuse accusations and also crises faster than organisations to which one is critical or negative up front. It goes without saying that the respective organisation must be seen and heard, be noticeable, i.e. communicate well. This is not about cosmetics or glossing over things, but about substance and performance.
The core questions on the reputation of NPOs can be assigned to five dimensions: Social benefit, management, reliability, transparency and general appreciation. In this context, the organisation owes a debt of gratitude. It has to prove itself: How high is its benefit to society? Is it long-term and unique? Is the organisation well managed? Does it do a good job? Does it deliver what it promises? Are its activities and financial practices transparent? Is it generally recognised?
In addition to trust-based reputation, the phenomenon of "personal or emotional closeness" to the organisation has an impact. Many NPOs explicitly base their mission on fundamental values whose realisation their work aims to achieve. The key questions from the perspective of the reference groups here are: Do I feel connected to the organisation? Do I share the same values? Am I interested in the same issues? Does this organisation also generate an indirect benefit for me (reciprocal altruism)?
It is fundamental to know the expectations of important reference groups and to consciously manage reputation as well as personal closeness. The Reputation Monitor was developed for this purpose. Where possible, expectations should be met. Where this is not possible or desired, this must be explained and understanding sought. The recipe of "pretty and touching" does not quite apply to everyone.
Prof. Rodolfo Ciucci
Lecturer for Communication
University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland
University of Applied Sciences