Right Responses to Orlando Tragedy (Case Study)

nonprofit crisis communications

Like you, my heart and head are heavy in the wake of the Orlando massacre of 49 people who were wives, husbands, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, parents, colleagues, friends, and much more to many people. Especially since I feel so helpless.

But there’s something we nonprofit communicators CAN DOrespond to crises like these with thought, respect, and relevance. Here’s how some of your fellow communicators are responding sensitively and productively to this tragedy:

First, STOP every pre-scheduled social media post and email.

Watch for pre-loaded social media messages. On Sunday morning (the morning after), my feed had many tone-deaf messages (Twitter and Facebook) that had clearly been put in the can on Friday afternoon. It’s not the worst thing, but it is something to think about when people use Hootsuite or other services to schedule social messages. Who’s assigned to pull back those messages when a tragedy strikes?

—Margot Friedman, Media Relations
Dupont Circle Communications

We dialed back all social posts except for show of support/remembrance on Monday (day after), but we had someone exhibiting at a conference and had to continue to support that. We rearranged schedule of blog posts,  resuming posting Thursday (5 days after sat eve tragedy).

—Laura Norvig, Digital Media Strategist
ETR

Then, PAUSE and THINK about the right response for your cause and community. 

Acknowledgment and Support, then Proceed as normal
My colleagues at Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen posted this on Sunday afternoon (the day after) with a photo of a rainbow heart with black background, “With profound sadness we stand with, and send our prayers to, the victims and all who are hurting and affected by the senseless act of violence in Orlando. #wechooselove

—Jane Van Ingen, Foundation Relations Officer and Database Manager
Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen

We held back scheduled posts and posted a remembrance and then later just directed people to our ChooseLove video from a year ago. We resumed normal posting today (3 days after).

—Liz Polay-Wettengel, National Director of Marketing and Communications
InterfaithFamily.com

Explicit acknowledgment along with what they planned, but NOT focusing the communication on the tragedy
I received this e-news from the Sierra Club (3 days after), with this header to the regular e-news content. Thanks to Larry Kaplan for sharing this too.

Sierra_club_-_Post_Orlando

Stay silent in respect, then Proceed as normal

We were silent on Sunday (the day after). I had thought of doing something but just let the day pass. We aren’t related to the community, are based in another country, and have materials to get out related to an event that just happened. We moved forward as of Monday (2 days after) with communications as planned.

—Cindy DesGrosseilliers , Communications Manager
Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada

Delay fundraising email, Revise subject line for relevance

We made a few changes.

  • Delayed fundraising email: We held an ask email originally scheduled for today (3 days after). We postponed for a day to give slightly more space for the Orlando conversation to continue.
  • Revised email subject line: The original subject line was going to be “Why today matters” but we felt that was inappropriate as what mattered at the moment was NOT our matching challenge. We changed it to “Making sure meals are there.”

—Aaron LaMonica-Weier, Manager, Digital Engagement – Cultivation
Feeding America

I’ll be back with stories from LGBT organizations facing a different (and more immediate) communications challenge, via digital engagement specialist Chris Tuttle.

Please share your recommendations, response and/or questions here. Let’s help each other do even better in responding to crises like these. It’s one thing we CAN do. Thank you.

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Nancy Schwartz on June 16, 2016 in Crisis Communications | 4 comments

  • Cindy Olnick, L.A. Conservancy

    Thanks for this post. We screened a classic Mexican film the following Wednesday and felt we had to say something to our largely Latino audience. We also felt the need to connect it to our work, but we were concerned about seeming opportunistic or, even worse, exploitative. Here’s what our President ended up saying from stage that night. We got a good response from the audience, but I’d appreciate your candid feedback on whether we hit the right tone or went too far:

    As we celebrate Latino heritage and culture tonight, our hearts go out to the victims and their loved ones reeling from the tragedy in Orlando. People are gathering by the thousands in places of importance to Latino, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. The Conservancy works hard to recognize and protect places that embody the richly diverse heritage of these communities. If you’d like to share your own story as part of this effort, please contact us on our website at laconservancy.org.

  • Cindy, thanks so much for sharing the Conservancy’s story. My take is that there’s no one way to do it. Personally, I would have stopped after the first sentence, and gotten to the ask later (not connecting it with the Orlando massacre.

  • Cindy Olnick, L.A. Conservancy

    In hindsight, I agree with you. Thanks.

  • Ah, hindsight. So clear, so obvious, now.

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