The recent debacle of Ryanair, having to cancel hundreds of thousands of bookings on their flights due to a cock-up over pilot holidays has some resonance with the charity sector.
Both offer a service to the public. They are both regulated, offering their services on a cost-effective basis. People with lower incomes rely on their service and both suffer from negative media attention when things go wrong. When things go wrong, people are adversely affected.
Of course, it would be impossible to suggest that Ryanair was a charity or shared many of the behaviours of a not-for-profit organisation. It is an airline that is driven by profit, with aggressive tactics creating one of the fastest growing airlines in the world.
But when things go wrong, for whatever reason, it can get out of hand quickly. This causes personal pain and long-lasting reputational damage. It is easy to compare the charismatic nature of Michael O’Leary, Ryanair’s Chief Executive, with the founder of a successful charity that goes array. It is called founder syndrome. A few senior people in the organisation who are driven by their own vision and in certain instances, have weak boards or controls to maintain a stable organisation.
Something as simple as a badly planned staff holiday rota has caused personal pain for many passengers, reputational damage to the airline and the media a field day. It is a salutary lesson for any organisation, listed, private or charitable that it is vital to have good governance, controls and processes in place to prevent simple errors escalating into a serious breach of trust.
Charites are not immune from the Ryanair affair and errors happen. The secret is to manage your risks accordingly and when things go wrong, have a concrete plan to mediate the issue as openly and honestly as possible.