3 Key Considerations for Crisis Management

crisismanagemetBy David Deschenes

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.

We want to hear from you! If there is any topic you would like us to explore, please send your inquiries to info@danosky.com! See more of our blogs to read more of what we’re passionate about!

The LEAP Program:
Five Years of Shaping Future Nonprofit Leaders

“Nobody teaches this stuff!” That’s what one of our past LEAP participants said as others around her nodded in agreement. This was someone who had come up through the ranks to earn a well-deserved Executive Director role. But after accepting the position, she discovered that there were major issues with the budget, and a number of grants were close to deadline. In addition, there were personnel issues that needed to be handled with care. She thought she knew the organization inside & out, but quickly discovered that she was not familiar with the many intricacies of running a nonprofit. Being at the top had turned out to be a lonely place. Then someone suggested The Leadership Enrichment for Advancing Professionals (LEAP) program.

The LEAP Program has just begun its fifth session. Over the previous four years, more than 40 nonprofit leaders from across Connecticut have graduated the LEAP program, coming away with working knowledge in the areas of Leadership, Strategy, Fundraising, Board Engagement, Financial Management, Communications, and Human Resource Management. The LEAP program consists of seven four-hour sessions that offer interactive presentations, group discussions, research and case study analysis, simulations, and action-planning activities. The final session, called “Immersion,” challenges participants to work in teams on a case study and present solutions using everything they’ve learned throughout the program. This usually culminates in lively presentations and some healthy competition.

LEAP 2018 Group Photo 2Guy Rovezzi, President and CEO of Northwest Connecticut Community Foundation, has supported the LEAP program from its inception five years ago. “One of the aspects of this program that I think is extremely effective is this multi-layered approach that builds each educational session after the prior one,” he said. “It keeps the same group together throughout the program so they can develop a sense of trust and an ability to communicate with each other that is comfortable. Many have kept in touch to form a supportive network of peers following completion of the LEAP program.”

Guy saw a longer-term benefit as well. “If a community foundation can assist in helping these individuals achieve the kinds of skills taught during LEAP, they will become more marketable in their own careers, and their organizations will benefit from having leaders who are more competent in what they do. It’s something we’re very proud of.”

The recent study Stanford Survey on Leadership and Management in the Nonprofit Sector, found that “more than 80 percent of nonprofit organizations struggle with at least one of the seven fundamental elements of nonprofit leadership and management, thus hampering their overall performance and their ability to achieve their goals.” This information affirms something that Danosky & Associates already knew: nonprofit leaders need a resource to learn critical leadership and management skills from the ground up while having access to a cohort of peer support.

“Over the years, we recognized there were common professional development needs that weren’t being met – particularly among those who are new to leadership roles,” said Sharon Danosky. “So we developed a program that offers an opportunity for up-and-coming leaders to learn alongside peers who have the same challenges. It’s a safe place where they soon realize that other people are struggling with similar issues – and that they can speak openly. We hear back from graduates of the program all the time about the difference it has made in their organizations and their careers.”

LEAP 2018 PresenterA follow up meeting with last year’s graduates found them making use of the skills they learned during the LEAP program. One LEAP alumni outlined how she had a much better understanding of the roles and responsibilities of her board following the program. As a result, she was able to better engage the board and develop a more productive working relationship to move the organization forward.

Another recent graduate of the program felt confident that he would be a better fundraiser as a result of attending LEAP. “I’ve had some success in running my own business, but this is my first experience as an executive director of a nonprofit,” said John Simoncelli, Executive Director of Litchfield-based Greenwoods Counseling Referrals. “The LEAP program offered great insight on a number of crucial aspects of running a successful nonprofit organization, delivered in seven sessions that followed one after the other. One of the more valuable take-aways for me was an analytical approach to fundraising. Sharon Danosky presented this in a way that clearly demonstrated proven ways to analyze your donor database to better engage donors and consistently increase annual donations.”

This year’s LEAP participants – fondly referred to as LEAPER’s – are from Canaan, Torrington, Woodbury, Sharon, Kent, and Falls Village and they run libraries, child care and family services, social service and health organizations, and cultural arts efforts.

A survey completed by participants to measure what they want to take away from this year’s LEAP program included developing a positive culture, learning expectations of the board, improving on management skills & leadership, increasing knowledge around fundraising, and how better to communicate the mission.

As we guide more nonprofit executives through our fifth year of LEAP, we will deliver on those expectations and more – building a pool of talented and well-trained executive directors who are on the front-lines of making people’s lives better.

We want to hear from you – What was your greatest challenge when you first became a leader in your organization? Click here to send your comments!

See more of our blogs to read more of what we’re passionate about!


Communications Assessments:
Looking Inward to Get Your Message Outward


By David Deschenes

Build it and they will come? No. That only happens in the movies. Whether you are looking to engage new & existing donors, attract talented staff or volunteers, implement a new internal process, or make your services known to the community, effective marketing and communications practices will have a crucial bearing on your success. That’s where a communications assessment is key.

A communications assessment examines both external and internal marketing and communications; what has been effective and what hasn’t worked quite so well. Interviews with key staff and volunteers provide valuable insight, and very often, great ideas. And a survey of the community lets you know how people perceive your organization.

Danosky & Associates has conducted a number of communications assessments recently for organizations in Connecticut. The New Britain Industrial Museum promotes the extensive history of industry in New Britain. It has a location on Main Street, and enjoys an extremely faithful, local member base. But they wanted to take their marketing and communications to a level that would attract new members, expand their age and cultural demographic footprint, and increase visits and donations to the museum.

Through a review of their current practices, interviews with key volunteers, and an online survey of the community, we were able to provide recommendations that would be reasonably within their means. “Our organization has already benefited from our recently-completed Communications Assessment,” said Sophie Huget, Executive Director of the museum. “The recommendations re-enforce vital points in our strategic plan, and helped us clarify how our audience wants us to communicate with them. Recommendations like seeking skilled marketing professionals as volunteers and using video as an educational (and promotional) tool will help us reach more people. D&A’s consideration for our organization’s history and vision made the process easy for us. Asking for our input at each turn, they gleaned meaningful responses from our network of supporters and made easily-digestible recommendations based on these responses.”

Whether large or small, all organizations must maintain effective marketing and communications efforts to ensure that the public is aware of their services and the value they bring to the community. A communications assessment resulting in a set of reasonable recommendations will present the tools and plan to get you there.

We want to hear from you! If there is any topic you would like us to explore, please send your inquiries to info@danosky.com! See more of our blogs to read more of what we’re passionate about!

The Post-Feasibility Study Reception:
A Capital Idea for Engaging Major Donors

Engaging Image

By Sharon Danosky

Capital campaigns – traditionally the holy grail of fundraising.  And for good reasons.  They allow you to raise significant sums of money in a relatively short period of time for a critical need.  While campaigns have evolved over the years – (they are not always for capital projects, for instance) – they still remain a relevant and critical source of philanthropic revenue.

The question of whether a feasibility study is a valuable part of the pre-campaign planning has been debated for a number of years now.  I subscribe to the school of thought that it is.  And while I am not debating the value of feasibility studies in this blog – I believe one of the primary benefits of the study is the opportunity  to ask your donors for their input on your initiative before you launch it and ask for their support.  And as a consultant who has had numerous conversations with donors over many years – I appreciate the candid and frank responses they giving knowing that their answers will remain anonymous.

Years ago, a donor make a comment during the interview that has stuck with me for years – and actually changed the way I approach doing feasibility studies.  He said to me, “You know, Sharon, I have participated is so many of these studies, and while I always enjoy it and feel they are valuable – I never hear the results of the study.  And I wonder why?”

I wondered why, as well.  So I started recommending that organizations hold a reception for those who participated in the study to be able to share the results.   I believe it provides a valuable opportunity for several reasons:

  1. It shares the results of a study in which they participated
  2. The organization can answer specific questions that were raised during the study
  3. It provides the opportunity to let the donor know you heard what they were saying
  4. If you made changes to the Case for Support as a result of the study – you can let donors know what their changes are
  5. And you can let them know of your decision to proceed (or not) with the campaign and even let them know the level of support from the Board

These receptions can be tailored to the organization and indeed, I have seen some very creative and effective ways my clients have used these forums.  Many even continue the forums as cultivation events with some tweaks and modifications.

Rabi Ari Rosenberg of Temple Sholom in New Milford found that holding these receptions lets his donors see that they’re not alone in supporting his organization. “Many of the opportunities I have to engage our donors are one-on-one. These receptions allow donors to see that they’re in good company with other like-minded people; they’re part of a larger cause.”

Beekley Community Library board member Laura Sunquist had a frank conversation with a donor at the reception following their feasibility study. “There was a major concern on the part of the donor related to a hot button issue. I was able to bring this back to the board for discussion; I never would have had an opportunity for this kind of conversation otherwise.”

The feasibility study is an excellent way of engaging your major donors.  The reception keeps the engagement going.  Both vital to a successful campaign.

I Can’t Believe They Didn’t Run It!
Five Steps to a Good Relationship with the Media

press release

I was speaking with someone new to the field recently, and they were perplexed that their press releases weren’t getting run in their local paper. So, I told him a story about the first press release I ever sent out. The short version is that when I followed up with the reporter — to complain — I got lambasted. The last thing the reporter said to me was, “Do you have ANY idea how many things I’m working on right now? THIRTY! So pardon the [bleep] out of me if I don’t have time to chase down a quote for your [bleeping, bleeping] BOARD ANNOUNCEMENT!!!” Click…

I learned the hard way that while I may think what I’m sending is top news of the day, others may have different thoughts. So following are five things that will not only increase your chances of getting something in the media, but might also make you some friends:

  1. Look at your relationship with the local press as a long-term one. Take the time to reach out and introduce yourself. Include some brief information about your organization and offer to be a resource. Reporters and editors are always on the lookout for fresh sources.
  2. Make a reporter’s job easy. Write the press release as a story; something you would like to see in the paper. Include quotes. Reporters are typically working on many other stories. So if they can just “plunk it in,” you’ve increased your odds and possibly made a friend for life.
  3. Don’t take things personally when you don’t get in the paper. Getting “bumped” is a common occurrence, especially when it comes to TV stations. You will ALWAYS get “We’ll try to be there, but no promises . . . and call us the day of to remind us.” They’re not kidding. Call.
  4. NEVER send your press release as a pdf. Reporters are always looking to copy & paste. So include all text of your press release in the body of your email (including contact info). You can attach a Word document if you want something that looks prettier. If you’re including photos, attach them and offer captions.
  5. If a reporter calls you, call them back IMMEDIATELY. Since they’re always on deadline, there’s a very good chance that they’re calling a bunch of different people for the same quote. Sometimes they’ll take the first one, and sometimes they’ll take the best. So call back right away, and be prepared.

BONUS TIP: Thank the reporter or editor if they run something of yours – a simple, “hey, thanks for running that story – appreciate it!”. They can surely be gruff with the pressures of reporting – but they’re human. They’ll remember a thank you and just might call you first the next time.