April 02, 2015

Update: Additional Info Clarifies Chronicle of Philanthropy Article About Red Cross Ombuds

The Chronicle of Philanthropy has revised its report on the American Red Cross and its Corporate Ombudsman Office to clarify comments from Jennifer Moumneh.  In addition, the IOA Board of Directors submitted a lengthy comment.

One of Moumneh's comments, which seemed to support the reporter's assertion that, "Employees won’t turn to the office if they don’t trust it or understand its function," was removed along with an entire paragraph.  Two other comments were revised or supplemented with additional information.  

In its comment, the IOA Board provided the following clarification:

The International Ombudsman Association (IOA) is the largest international association of professional Organizational Ombudsmen practitioners supporting Organizational Ombudsmen worldwide working in corporations, universities, non-profit organizations, government entities and non-governmental organizations. The term “Ombudsman” and derivatives of the word such, as “Ombuds” or “Ombudsperson,” can be used to describe several different types of roles. In a March 18, 2015 article “Red Cross Case Raises Questions About How Nonprofits Handle Complaints,” two distinct types of ombudsmen, organizational and classical/legislative, are described and conflated. As the leaders in promoting and supporting the Organizational Ombudsman profession, we have written this letter to address common misunderstandings about the role of the Organizational Ombudsman as well as address the misperceptions of the role as described in the article.

It is well documented that many organizations struggle with encouraging employees to come forward and report concerns. Often, an Organizational Ombudsman is able to create the conditions in which an employee would feel comfortable bringing forward a concern through formal channels. Establishing a strong formal conflict management system (such as an Office of General Counsel or Human Resources), coupled with an independent, informal channel for addressing concerns of all types including allegations of violations of policies, procedures and laws (such as an Organizational Ombudsman’s office), increases the likelihood that an organization will be able to identify systemic issues that may hinder its ability to accomplish its mission or be made aware of and able to correct any wrongdoings. Organizations benefit from having a confidential resource, such as an Organizational Ombudsman for employees, where individuals can, without automatically triggering a formal process, seek information, weigh their options and determine the best way to raise or address their concerns.

Acting pursuant to charters from their organizations and/or in compliance with the International Ombudsman Association (IOA) Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics, Organizational Ombudsmen can provide important conflict management and problem solving services in a neutral, independent, informal, and confidential manner. An Organizational Ombudsman strengthens both the informal and the formal channels within an organization by providing a resource for employees and management to address work-related concerns. Organizational Ombudsmen programs often work best when they are a part of a comprehensive conflict management system that includes both strong formal and informal channels for addressing concerns.

The Organizational Ombudsman uses methods such as conflict coaching, mediation, facilitation and shuttle diplomacy. Unlike some ombudsmen (often referred to as “classical” or “legislative”), an Organizational Ombudsman is neutral, cannot advocate on behalf of any individual or group (they cannot advocate for an employee nor are they apologists for management), and does not have a role in any formal investigation or process (they cannot receive notice on behalf of the organization). However, the Organizational Ombudsman may advocate for a fair and equitable process. They do so by providing feedback to an organization’s leadership regarding both informal and formal processes. Organizational Ombudsmen can be proactive in searching for and recommending options to surface issues without breaching confidentiality. In this manner, the Organizational Ombudsman is an enhancement to the organization’s formal processes, including whistleblowing channels, by educating employees about the formal process and providing information and resources so that employees feel comfortable raising their concerns to the appropriate level of management.

In practice and in principle, Organizational Ombudsmen are not a means for suppressing concerns, but rather a confidential channel where a concerned employee can seek information and formulate options available for raising concerns. Because Organizational Ombudsmen operate in an informal and independent capacity, they are able to tailor assistance to the individual, so that the individual is more likely to report a concern than he or she otherwise would. Many Organizational Ombudsmen can report success in working with individuals to raise concerns through formal channels after consulting with the Organizational Ombudsman. Pursuant to the IOA Standards of Practice, “If the Ombudsman pursues an issue systemically (e.g., provides feedback on trends, issues, policies and practices) the Ombudsman does so in a way that safeguards the identity of individuals.” Additionally, an Organizational Ombudsman, because of his or her independence and informality, can assist employees whose concerns do not appear to be easily addressed through a formal channel designed to redress allegations of violations in policies, procedures and laws. An Organizational Ombudsman has the ability to raise concerns in such a manner that might otherwise be left unreported because an employee fears retaliation or reprisal or is unaware of her/his options.

Organizational Ombudsmen, unlike Classical Ombudsmen, do not conduct investigations. For organizations with an Organizational Ombudsman, the power to conduct investigations often lies within the formal channels such as a Human Resources Office or an Inspector General’s Office. As such, an Organizational Ombudsman does not replace a formal channel within an organization.

We encourage your readers to visit the IOA at www.ombudsassociation.org to learn more about the Organizational Ombudsman function. We can be contacted at info@ombudsassociation.org. Thank you for this opportunity to provide clarification and further information to your readers.
(Chronicle of Philanthropy article: cached original; revised.)

Prior post: Chronicle of Philanthropy and Sen. Grassley Apparently Misunderstand the Red Cross Ombuds Program.


  1. Thank you for correcting this so very thoroughly and quickly.