Reach Out during Crisis w/Respect & Sensitivity

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:

Most importantly, consider how these events are effecting everyone at a personal level—Events like these emphasize the fragility of human life and daily life as we know it, so send many of us into a tailspin. It’s hard NOT to be concerned. 

Add to that the fact that we’re all immersed, whether we want to be or not, in coverage of these events. Orgs can’t interrupt that totally. We’ll fail if we try. But even more importantly, we have to keep going—strategically, and with care—or our orgs will suffer too.

Here’s how to stay respectful but relevant in the middle of (and after) crisis and disaster. For nonprofits, the answer lies in the way (if any) your organization is involved in the relief effort.

If your organization:

 1) Works on totally unrelated causes

  • Continue with your planned outreach.
  • BUT, acknowledge what’s going on. Pretending the crisis or disaster didn’t happen is the worst mistake your organization can make. Trying to do so will make folks perceive your organization as out of it, and are likely to dismiss what you have to say.

2) Advocates  for related causes (in this case, international development, community building, human rights, racial discrimination):

  • Now’s the time for you to connect the events to your issue, but be super-sensitive to inappropriate pitches.
  • Acknowledge the magnitude of the earthquake and/or brutality and misconduct, and the contributions your network can make (and has made) to preventing like crises or disasters in the future.
  • Emphasize that the recent crises highlights the need for change (and donations or advocacy) and increases the urgency of your call to action. Now’s the time.

3) Provides direct support

  • Go! Get out there with your campaigns at 150 m.p.h. on all channels, with specifics.
  • Clarify, memorably and briefly, why your organization is well-equipped to help.
  • Share live stories, ideally with photos, quotes, video (while respecting those you’re helping), a.s.a.p.
  • Keep in touch with donors frequently and update them as the situation on the ground—and your response—changes.
  • Log your communications response. Then, in a few weeks when things are a bit quieter, use those notes to outline a one-page plan for next time (there will be one), so you can get out there even more strongly and more quickly.

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

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Here’s a checklist for you to use right now, and two related case studies:

9-Step Checklist: How to Communicate in the Midst of Tragedy

Nonprofit Disaster Communications Done Right (Case Study)

How to Respond to a National Tragedy

Nancy Schwartz in Crisis Communications | 2 comments

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