Crisis Communications

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? READ MORE

Nancy Schwartz in Crisis Communications | 4 comments

Communicate in Midst of Disaster & CrisisHow can our orgs communicate effectively in the middle of two huge crises1) Police brutality and misconduct in Baltimore, spurring response by community members fighting for their rights and lives; and 2) Nepal’s crushing earthquake, and the millions whose lives will be impacted for years to come?

This is an extremely delicate challenge, whether the crisis is human-driven (as in the Baltimore police actions) or a natural disaster. Here’s how to communicate effectively right now:


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What and your colleagues labored for years to fund, design and (finally) open your highly-visible museum (or cause/issue-focused organization)?

What if—because the museum’s reason for being is so close to folks’  hearts and heads—the design and build is highly scrutinized for the many years it takes to launch?

And what if, when the museum finally opens, it gets hammered with criticism because….you’ve been creative, resourceful and realistic in terms of budget needs and sustainability, building in revenue streams from a good restaurant, a gift shop and private event hosting ? Or—really—because the museum’s focus is SO sensitive.

This is exactly the position that The National September 11 Memorial & Museum finds itself in right now. What would you do? 


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Here’s the hot-off-the-presses story I just received from Leili Khalessi, Communications Manager at RedRover. Leili and her colleagues have done a terrific job responding to the deadly tornadoes and torrential rains that are wreaking havoc with our lives, and those of our pets.

The response has been great—Leili reports that local agencies have shared RedRover’s disaster-related resources via Twitter and other channels and the org’s 15,000+ Facebook fans have been sharing its disaster-resource & assistance graphic  far and wide. “We’ve also received some press inquiries from pet-related publications because of our coverage on the tornadoes,” says Leili.

You can bet folks will remember RedRover’s help and moral support, with donations, loyalty and more. Here’s what Leili and team did, and how they made it happen quickly and effectively.

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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:


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As I read accounts of Typhoon Haiyan survivors struggling for basic needs, I’m struck by the number of lives that have been taken and touched by this disaster in the Philippines.

That’s a significant communications challenge for the nonprofit organizations that work delivering aid: How to mobilize giving while communicating respectfully about their efforts and impact on the ground? How to keep giving going even as the Typhoon, and the plight of survivors, fades from top of mind?

And what about the many other organizations not directly providing relief efforts but soliciting donations to pass on to relief organizations? Or the majority of nonprofits, like most of the your organizations, that have to carry on with communications and fundraising initiatives despite the global focus on recovery in the Philippines—nonprofits counting on the gifts they hope to generate via their year-end campaigns?

For every organization, the answer lies in the way (if any) your organization is involved in the relief effort. Here’s my recommendation:


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The crises of recent days—both person-made (the D.C. naval yard massacre) and natural disasters (flooding in Colorado)— highlight the delicacy of communicating effectively in the shadow of disaster.

Crises like these emphasize the fragility of human life and daily life as we know it, so naturally send many of us into a personal tailspin, even if we’re not personally affected. And your network has been immersed, whether they have wanted to be or not, in crisis coverage.

As always, relevance rules and should remain your framework for communications decision making. Here’s how to stay sensitive but relevant post-crisis.


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Update: How to Re-Assess and Re-Engage

Review these useful insights from nonprofit marketers and fundraisers like you. Please add your thoughts, experience, and questions.

Like you, my heart and head are heavy in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing [or relate this guidance to the latest mass tragedy—there are so distressingly many of them]. Especially since I feel so helpless.

I had a completely different post planned for the morning after but wanted to respond a.s.a.p. to the questions, worries and just totally-wrong communications I’ve seen going out since the bombings and all the fear-inducing activities that have followed it already.

Most of this outreach was harmless, but simply a mismatch with what’s on our minds right now. Because most of us are feeling horror, sadness, fear, uncertainty, and a sense of helplessness and vulnerability.

Here are my right-now recommendations for your organization’s response to this crisis and to others that, unfortunately, we will face together. Already follow-ups are undermining our collective sense of safety and well-being.

Please share your strategies, and add your questions and feedback here. We are so much smarter together.

Nancy Schwartz in Crisis Communications | 52 comments

Once your organization’s reputation is seriously damaged, it’s difficult to restore trust and focus on successes.

And once your organization’s reputation is damaged multiple times—as is the case for Susan G. Komen for the Cure, with its screw-ups in de-funding Planned Parenthood, suing other organizations with “cure” in their organizational or program names and partnering with the heart-stopping Kentucky Fried Chicken—restoring confidence and support is almost impossible.

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Thanks to guest blogger Joan Stewart for sharing her timely advice.

What a week for learning about crisis communications! Here are five important lessons that Rep. Anthony Weiner taught nonprofit communicators. You’ve heard them all before but Weiner’s massive missteps clarify how important they really are:

  1. Never lie. Weiner thought he could fib his way through the crisis. But at almost every media interview, he got himself tangled up in his own lies and kept changing his story.
  2. Don’t criticize the messenger. Weiner called a reporter a “jackass” for asking a logical question, and that showed he was combative.
  3. Prepare talking points and stick to them. Weiner agreed to numerous media interviews but kept digging a deeper hole because he wasn’t prepared.
  4. When dumping bad news, tell it all, tell it first and tell it fast. The drip-drip-drip of bad news throughout the last two weeks helped this story grow long legs.
  5. Take full responsibility and apologize. Weiner claims “responsibility for my actions” but adamantly says he won’t resign. Expect politicians from both parties to pile on throughout the week and keep this story at the top of the news. A resignation would end the media frenzy.

Learn more here about how your organization should respond in a crisis.

P.S. Get more in-depth case studies, templates and tools, and guidance for nonprofit marketing success — all featured in the twice-monthly Getting Attention e-update. Subscribe today.

Tips reprinted with permission from “The Publicity Hound’s Tips of the Week” ezine. Subscribe here and receive free the handy cheat sheet “89 Reasons to Write a Press Release.” Follow Joan Stewart on Facebook and on Twitter.

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