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What to do when your nonprofit’s rep is taking a beating

November 12, 2021 Category: FeaturedLongPurpose

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Visit Philadelphia is hip-deep in a Glassdoor hell.

The nonprofit that serves as the Philadelphia region’s official tourism marketing agency was always going to have a difficult time during the pandemic. Still, just this week, it launched an inventive partnership with local artists — following the focus on storytelling the organization has had across its 25-year history.

That public launch resulted in a new wave of former, and current, employee messages to Generocity about a workplace culture that has worsened the rate of employee turnover. From at least 60 full time employees in 2019 to what appears to be less than half that size today, it might be easy to consider it purely a case of pandemic turmoil.

But then there are those damn Glassdoor reviews. One calls Visit Philly “a sad, corrupt shadow of its former self;” another reads “Their diversity and inclusion initiative is a joke.” Another: “This is the most broken environment I’ve ever worked in, and I came from a startup.”

Employers, nonprofit and for-profit, love to hate Glassdoor, the employee-review site founded in 2007 and now owned by publicly traded jobs search giant Recruit Holdings. Some feel it is a site where, under the guise of transparency, disgruntled employees go to exact revenge. Others say it offers a distorted view — only the angriest former workers complain.

But what no one disputes is its importance to jobseekers — especially the 10 million Gen Z and Millennial Glassdoor users to whom a company’s culture and values are least as important as benefits and perks were to older generations of jobseekers. Regardless of generation, Glassdoor estimates that people read an average of seven reviews while forming an opinion of a company. If your organization is experiencing significant turnover and needs to attract prospective employees, you can’t afford to ignore Glassdoor’s reviews.

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The site also offers a kind of guidance for a news organization like Generocity. When we hear about internal turmoil at a nonprofit, Glassdoor is one of several places we go to check on the organization’s stability and general well-being.

Why should this matter to the nonprofit sector? At Generocity we think it matters because of the lessons it offers other nonprofits on what to do — or not do — when issues with company culture and employee morale go from hidden to public.

Nonprofits have reputations for low pay, high stakes and demanding outcomes. It’s where our city’s problems are most directly addressed and too frequently we fail to consider what happens inside the nonprofits themselves. Visit Philly isn’t the first nonprofit we’ve been told requires greater scrutiny, but it has taken one of the more dramatic and public turns. A Visit Philly spokesman did not return our requests for comment.

So, how should nonprofits confront the challenge of a significant number of negative reviews on Glassdoor? Here are some pointers.

Assess the depth and quality of the reviews.

There is a big difference between the deeply-described negative reviews that Visit Philly has been receiving, and the single-issue negative reviews the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, for example, has received from teachers at the archdiocesan schools. The former detail a company culture in crisis, the latter are almost all short and focused on the low pay scale.

It may not seem like it, but a detailed negative review can be a gift — it offers the organization a blueprint of the practices and policies that are precipitating turnover and/or impacting outcomes.

Silence is not your friend.

65% of Glassdoor users say their perception of a company changes after seeing an employer respond to a review. Take a page out of the book of a nonprofit like Benefits Data Trust — which has received a number of negative reviews over the years, especially from former benefits outreach specialists — and responds to the reviews in a considered, measured way.

Sometimes those responses have been explanatory, directly addressing the issues brought up by the review, and sometimes they have been just expressions of regret that the former employee’s experience was bad. But in all cases those measured and considered answers to posted reviews indicate responsiveness, which is something every jobseeker looks for.

Pay attention to patterns.

Pattern recognition isn’t just the stuff of AI or machine learning, it is part of effective management. If the bad reviews your organization is receiving online point to a pattern of problematic practices or policies, the time to pay attention is now — not in the middle of a public reckoning and PR disaster. Hubris won’t protect you from that reckoning or disaster — but building trust and opening communications might.

Fix the problem.

The number of bad (or good) reviews your organization gets at Glassdoor is merely the reflection of a greater whole. For every former employee who is willing to write a review on Glassdoor, there are countless others who are too fearful or too busy and will offer their take via informal whisper networks instead.

Without question these word-of-mouth reviews will have impact too — eventually they may reach the ears of your organization’s funders, potential partners and a myriad other stakeholders. The whisper network is ruthlessly effective, and survives despite the non-disparagement clauses some organizations have their employees sign (which, in and of itself, is a red flag that your organization has a serious systemic problem).

Unless you are willing to have your organization’s reputation metastasize — regardless of how it happens — concern yourself with addressing the underlying problem, not the symptoms of it.

Now it’s your turn. Does your organization have instructive, clarifying or even genuinely new and brilliant ideas to share with your peer nonprofits about how to deal with bad reviews, high turnover rates and teetering reputations? Email us at and put “Reputation savers” in the subject line.

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