Three ways to protect your nature center’s reputation

Your nature center has become a very important organization—to you, your staff (both employees and volunteers), and the community you serve. Your center plays a vital role in preserving biodiversity. It is a sanctuary where people can seek refuge and connect with nature. Your nature center benefits the community educationally, provides unique settings for social experiences, contributes to your community economically, and protects that slice of nature you’ve vowed to protect.

In this issue of our newsletter, we’ll address three risks that may impact your center’s reputation and provide ways you can protect what you’ve worked so hard to develop.

1. Use social media wisely

The power of social media is undeniable, and the number of users is staggering! According to socialmediatoday.com, Facebook has reached one trillion page views. Twitter now has 100 million monthly users. LinkedIn grew 63% in the last year. YouTube is now the second largest search engine. Social media provides a colossal opportunity to interact with your supporters by allowing them to share their voice.

Nature centers are increasingly taking advantage of social media to advance their cause. But if not used properly, social media could pose risks such as defamation, negative PR, and privacy violations. Below are some tips to help you protect your center’s reputation:

  • Implement social media guidelines for staff and volunteers. Outline responsibilities and expectations for the use of social media sites. Determine and guide your staff as to when social media relationships are appropriate and when they are not. Update your guidelines regularly as technology and social media site protocol changes.
  • Direct your staff and volunteers to only post to social media sites what they would want to see on the front page of your local newspaper. Employees need to realize they represent your center every time they post and should maintain a level of professionalism by following the guidelines in place. Consider limiting who can post on behalf of your center and train them properly.
  • Monitor the posts made by your staff, as they can be held against your center. Any offending statements posted by staff about another organization could be attributed to your center and create a potential liability.
  • Establish a small response team to monitor and manage feedback and center loyalty. Do not underestimate YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and other sites. Social media gives you an opportunity to interact with the public and your supporters, and when you promptly respond to feedback, you increase your ability to build loyalty and trust.
  • Remind staff of prohibited activities on social media sites. This includes divulging intellectual property, engaging in harassment, discriminating, and creating a hostile work environment.
  • Use “social etiquette.” Don’t post everything. Instead, post information that is meaningful to your center.
  • Set up alerts on Google, Bing, or other search engines. This allows you to be notified when your center’s name pops up in articles, posts, blogs, and websites that you do not monitor on a consistent basis.
  • Have fun!

2. Put policies in place for volunteers

Although not your employees, volunteers play a vital role in your center. They help to promote an understanding, appreciation, and stewardship of your mission. Volunteers can also expose your center to risk. Just as policies and practices are adopted for your staff, policies and practices should also be adapted for your volunteers. Generally speaking, policies and procedures for volunteers should at least be “light” versions of your center’s employment policies. Like your staff, volunteers need to be selected, screened, oriented, and trained to their tasks. Be sure to verify information provided on their application, including confirmation of any licenses held.

Volunteers should also receive performance evaluations and be given the opportunity to provide feedback regarding their position. This is done to ensure that their performance meets the needs of your center and protects your reputation.

3. Keep safety top of mind

Safety should obviously be within the risk management realm of every center. How would your reputation be affected if people were regularly injured on your premises? To protect your center, you should determine the general types of risks faced by your employees, patrons, and the community served. These risks can vary greatly from one center to another and may include workplace violence, risks in the community (if it is an unsafe community), emergency preparedness, occupational risks such as slips and falls, chemical risks, and medical risks.

To protect your center you should have a methodical understanding of the typical risks being faced. You should ask:

  • How frequently do safety incidents arise?
  • How will we deal with them?
  • Who is responsible for mitigation efforts?
  • What costs are associated with the actual events?
  • What costs are associated with the initiatives to mitigate them?
  • What safety and legal regulations are applicable to my center such as OSHA, unions, and funder contracts?

Centers serving vulnerable participants (youth, elderly, disabled) should give safety procedures special consideration. Written protocols should be developed, communicated, and available to all staff. Pay particular attention to supervision guidelines with respect to adult and child interactions. There should be no circumstance where one-on-one interactions exist. Any actual or potential abuse requires a uniform, consistent protocol applied for reporting that is consistent with federal and state laws.

Conclusion

You have spent a lot of time building your center’s reputation, so it is important not to let any risks drag it down. Taking the time to incorporate risk management practices can yield great dividends in your longevity. 


The information provided in this article is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be considered as all encompassing, or suitable for all situations, conditions, and environments. Please contact us or your attorney if you have any questions.

For safety or risk management questions or suggestions, please contact Markel.

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