Does your nonprofit have a crisis communication plan in place?
Recent news of the under cover Planned Parenthood videos or the arrest of longtime spokesman for Subway, we are reminded that all organizations need to have an effective crisis communications plan in place. Does your nonprofit have one? And, more important, when was the plan last updated? Bottom line – bad things can happen to good nonprofits, always be prepared for a crisis.
Here are 3 keys for better crisis management by your nonprofit.
1. Plan Ahead
“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Crises come in all different types. Some are more high profile than others but, in a time of 24/7 news and social media, thinking you can keep the situation from the public is not a reality.
Many organizations only get their crisis plans underway once a crisis has struck. Instead, brainstorm possible scenarios or types of disasters that could happen and start planning for them. Educate yourself about nonprofit crises and investigate the path that other organizations took to mitigate the crisis or those who failed to put out the fire. Ask other nonprofit colleagues what crises they have experienced and how they managed the predicament.
A communications plan could involve identifying spokespeople, assigning someone to gather the facts as they emerge, writing and distribution of press releases, setting up a media hotline, and finding a place where you can have a press conference. These can all be done in advance.
Also consider putting together a media training program before a disaster strikes. Train anyone who might need to be a spokesperson. That would be your key board members, your Executive Director and other key staff, such as a media relations or programs person. Think broadly when deciding who to train.
2. Respond Quickly
“We have absolutely no control over what happens to us in life but what we have paramount control over is how we respond to those events.” ― Viktor Frankl
Every minute counts after a crisis. Don’t waste any of them. Silence is not a option. Send out appropriate statements and messages immediately, even if it is only acknowledging that you know about the situation, you’re working on it, and that few facts are known at the moment. Then continue the communication with updates as the facts develop.
In all communications, be concise, show concern, speak with empathy, and always tell the truth. Don’t be afraid to say, “We don’t know.” That is better than guessing. Always reiterate that you are working as quickly as possible to get all the facts.
Speak to the media, traditional and social. A vacuum of information breeds media hostility and public loss of confidence.
3. Get Your Social Media House in Order
“It usually takes me two or three days to prepare an impromptu speech.” ― Mark Twain
Social media can be a great tool during a crisis IF it is handled well. Almost all nonprofits now use some level of social media. Decide now who will manage that media during a crisis situation. Set up a dashboard such as TweetDeck or HootSuite where comments can be monitored and responses provided quickly.
In this excerpt from PR News’ Book of Crisis Management Strategies & Tactics, Vol. 8, Ann Marie van den Hurk, principal of Mind The Gap Public Relations, lists six recommendations for integrating social media into every crisis scenario your brand might face.
- Criticism: Do not censor criticism on your blog, Facebook account or YouTube channel unless it violates your stated community guidelines. This is a difficult concept for organizations to get accustomed to in the age of social media. Removing the offending comments may lead to more, harsher comments.
- Tone: Social media is not the space for corporate tone. When responding, be personal, polite and professional. Never respond in a dismissive or impolite manner. It will only add fuel to the fire.
- Order: Many organizations are afraid to stand up for themselves on social media. It’s OK to bring order to the organization’s online space, which will allow for concerns to be addressed.
- Listen: Listen to and try to understand what the negative commenter wants. Respond directly to the person, when possible. Respond publicly and have an open conversation or acknowledge the concern and then take it offline. How an organization handles a particular situation depends on the factors involved.
- Channel: Different social media channels have unique tones because they target different audiences. Each channel needs to communicate the same message, but that message needs to conform to the style of a particular channel. What works in a media release, on a website or in a brochure will not necessarily work on Twitter or Facebook.
- Update: Websites and social media platforms need to be updated 24/7. During a crisis, people will be expecting current information. They will be expecting interaction on social media platforms.