Charity leaders have raised concerns about the “challenging climate” faith organisations are working in, during Civil Society Media’s inaugural Faith Charities Forum yesterday.
Islamic Relief Worldwide’s head of governance Khaleel Desai and head of media and external relations Simona French led a session about protecting reputations, drawing on their own experiences at Islamic Relief. They addressed some of the issues faith charities can experience and how to tackle them.
Desai said Islamic Relief has faced an “additional level of scrutiny” from some of the public and media. He said it comes from a “negative attitude” that is based on “complete inaccuracies” about what people believe the charity do.
The duo explained the special challenges Islamic faith-based organisations can experience. For example, being incorrectly linked to terrorism, “unparalleled” financial scrutiny and islamophobia and racism.
French used the example of the charity's Subhanallah bus campaign, which saw “personal” and “islamophobic” attacks on people who worked for the charity.
The campaign was initially set up to highlight the amount of charity work carried out in Ramadan and to raise awareness, but it quickly “took on a life of its own”.
Its bus campaign attracted more than 500 items of news in two weeks, and for more than 24 hours Islamic Relief was trending as the number one topic on Facebook in the UK.
But there were “accusations of political correctness gone mad” and “accusations of cultural insensitivity,” French said.
She added that “social media added fuel to the fire”, as “we live in a very polarised world”. But she said that the charity had handled the crisis quite well, by using the opportunity to spread its message.
Desai and French offered advice to faith organisations tackling similar issues:
- Consider who to approach to do interviews and research journalists.
- Think about case management teams “in advance of the crisis”.
- Ensure those in governance at the trustee level are “fully engaged in the risks”.
They also spoke about some of the long term reforms that the charity has now adopted. These include a stronger social media policy, expanding inter-faith programming and a new crisis communications toolkit.
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