No organization believes they need crisis communications…until a crisis occurs. Unfortunately, by then it’s too late to create a plan of how to deal with the situation and you are forced to improvise. Starting with a solid crisis communications plan in place can reduce tension during an incident, demonstrate your nonprofit’s commitment and expertise, and control the flow and accuracy of information to both the media and your audiences.
It’s not to say it will be easy, and planning for a crisis does take time. However, this process in its entirety will serve as an educational and invaluable strategy for your organization in the long run.
The 101 of a Crisis Communications Plan
The first key to crisis management is anticipating and evaluating your organization’s risks and vulnerability to situations, beforehand. Identify potential crises scenarios and develop a plan of action should they become a reality. For this brainstorming time to be effective, include staff, Board members and key individuals that play a role in your organization’s day-to-day functions.
Establishment of a Crisis Team
Develop specific roles and assignments within your organization’s leadership and establish a “Crisis Team” with designated responsibilities to carry out in the event of a crisis. Your team should be a flexible but structured group comprised of both internal staff and external resources. Example responsibilities include a Decision Maker, Spokesperson and Internal Communications Manager.
When a crisis surfaces, your organization should have one unified response to present to the media. The response should be simple, clear, consistent and tailored to every audience you connect with (volunteers, beneficiaries, donors, etc). The overall goal should always be to protect the integrity and reputation of your nonprofit. Tip: Be pro-active, responsive, and action-oriented.
Review your plan. Assess what worked and what needs to be revised. Check the coverage the crisis received—are there any issues that need further clarification or follow-up? File your notes for future reference and don’t forget that there is always room for improvement. Tip: A solid, working crisis communications plan should be updated and reviewed (at least) yearly.
Takeaway: Don’t discount the benefit of creating and implementing a crisis communications plan now, to protect your organization later.