Nonprofit Crisis Communications: Case Study

Crisis CommunicationsThe recent triple murder at a Jewish Community Center (JCC) and Jewish-run retirement home in Kansas City—by a white supremacist, because he thought his victims were Jewish—generated empathy and concern among everyone I know. It was made even worse by the timing just a few days before the anniversary of 2013’s Boston Marathon massacre.

But for us Jews, about to celebrate Passover the next evening, it spurred extra sadness, anxiety and fear. Like many other peoples, Jews are periodically targeted for acts of hatred and violence. And this one, coming on the eve of such an important holiday, was especially frightening.

I was awed by the way community leader Alan Feldman, CEO of JCC Metrowest, conveyed calm, reassurance and hope to members and student families in this right-things, right-now email. He implemented this six-point approach:

  • Sets a straightforward, calm, reassuring tone
    • From Alan’s clear, short, informational subject line—On Incident at Kansas City JCC—to his closing wish—Chag Pesach Sameach! Please try to enjoy a very sweet and wonderful Passover and holiday season—Alan is as positive and forward-looking as possible
    • It would have been natural to send an emotionally-charged email, mirroring what I’m sure Alan felt on the inside, but he took the higher role to provide what the community wanted
  • Bonds with us by speaking personally, with a first-person approach
    • I know that you join me in expressing outrage at the news of the shooting at two Jewish community institutions in Kansas City
    • By putting himself and the reader on the same “side,” Alan builds buy in and faith
  • Redirects our focus to those who are most important—the victims and their families
    • Our most heartfelt thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by this terrible tragedy…
    • He brings community’s attention back to the real victims, motivating our empathy and clarifying how lucky (and safe) we are
  • Connects further over a topic that’s collectively top of mind—Passover
    • Our most heartfelt thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by this terrible tragedy as well as our hopes that a sweet and liberating Passover will in some way ease their pain.
    • Then Alan links his call to action (calm and empathy) to the Passover story for greatest relevance
  • Reassures us via his clear, comprehensive list of how the JCC is keeping us safe
    • Regarding our own agency here in West Orange, please know that we are in constant contact with the West Orange Police and The Secure Community Network (SCN) (with full details on both)
    • By showing what safety approaches are in place, rather than addressing fears, Feldman demonstrates his dedication to community safety.
  • Strengthens our bond by inviting us to get in touch with questions or discussion, and there’s nothing more calming than that.
    • I will keep you informed if new information becomes available, but, if you have any questions or comments, please contact me personally

This six-point approach is backbone of crisis communications. It works for the JCC, and will work for your organization.

How have you communicated around a crisis? Please share recommendations for crisis communications dos and don’ts here.

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P.P.S. More Crisis Communications Guidance


Nancy Schwartz on April 16, 2014 in Crisis Communications | 3 comments
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  • Sue Brage

    DON’T use the tragedy to promote your own agenda or add any editorial opinions. We’ve seen examples of this even recently with the missing plane story. To me that’s tasteless and the worst kind of self-promoting.

    DO offer a positive way to respond, by donating to a local organization, sharing, or just praying. As you said, keep the focus where it should be on the crisis, the victims, and the reader’s desire to help.

  • Sue, useful adds. Thank you. There is a lot of promoting an org’s or company’s own agenda. What did you see re: the missing Malaysian plane? If you could share a brief example or two that would be very helpful.

  • Great question Nancy. I honestly can’t remember, but there were some posts on FB that I remember thinking were inappropriate during the tragedy. Recently I was researching social media blunders and came across some other examples…such as Gap promoting online shopping to those affected by Hurricane Sandy. These can happen as a result of trying to jump on a hashtag trend, but can come of awfully insensitive.

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