There are all kinds of issues and crises that can arise on any given day for a nonprofit. Ask an executive director if they’ve recently dealt with an issue that had a potential negative impact on their organization’s standing and they’ll most likely reply, “What? Of course!” There is no shortage.
Yet many nonprofits find themselves unprepared when it comes to communicating through a crisis. Following are three essential steps that all nonprofit organizations should take to be prepared for the next crisis or urgent issue that challenges their good reputation.
1. Visualize Your Crisis
Don’t be afraid to use your imagination on this one. Make a list of your organization’s vulnerabilities and think of the absolute worst thing that could happen. Then list other things that may not be so extreme, but could still do damage to your reputation. The worst might be that your location burns down, while something less severe – but nevertheless damaging – may be that a staff member has embezzled from clients.
2. Learn from Others
Now that you know what could happen, do some research to find out how other organizations responded to similar issues and crises. Learn what worked and what didn’t work. Was there a communication plan in place? Or was it in disarray – or even nonexistent? Who did they communicate out to? Who was their spokesperson? Were there too many spokespeople?
3. Create Formal Plans for Each Scenario (and Ensure That People are Trained)
Now that you’ve learned from the successes and mistakes or others, plan accordingly. You will need both logistical and communications plans for each scenario you’ve developed. In the event of a major fire, logistics to consider would be: do you have a practiced evacuation plan, where do you run your services following such a crisis? From a communications perspective, what are your key messages that you have for the press, funders, the community, volunteers, etc. Who are the spokespeople in your organization and among your volunteers? Do you have relationships developed with your local press? A social media communications strategy? Have you run through these scenarios with your key people and do they know how to deliver your key messages during the crisis?
These are just the first steps in ensuring your nonprofit is preparing for the next crisis on the horizon. Don’t get caught off guard. Take the time to brainstorm around what could happen to your organization, learn from others, and then be prepared with concrete plans.
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