3 min Read
November 9, 2012

Five Steps to Successful Crisis Communications

Meghan Teich

With more than a week since Superstorm Sandy hit, many nonprofits are asking the same question: how do we communicate during a crisis like that? It’s not an easy situation to be in for anyone. Knowing how to get your message out and how to get support will help position you out in front the next time something like Sandy roars ashore (although hopefully not anytime soon!).

Get on the same page and be nimble.

Make sure that your staff is all kept up to date on your communications plan, and that they have a clear understanding of your messaging. The last thing you need is a rogue tweet or Facebook post because someone wasn’t in the loop. A communications chain of command can be helpful in these instances, so everyone knows who they’re charged with informing. And if your organization is large and bureaucratic, figure out a way for information and approval to flow more quickly, so that you can stay nimble and responsive.

Consider your timing.

Strike while the iron’s hot, but not so soon that it looks like you’re capitalizing on a crisis. It’s a tricky balance, but the key is to wait until you have a good handle on the information available before making anything external. No matter what you choose to do, let it sit for at least an hour or two to make sure it feels thoughtful and responsive, rather than reactive and out of touch. Above all, don’t reach out to people who have been directly impacted by the disaster, or it will come across as inappropriate. The last thing people from Staten Island or New Jersey needed last week was an ill-timed fundraising ask.

Be specific.

Don’t use the crisis as an opportunity to do general fundraising for your organization (unless you have a particularly relevant mission). Instead, create a specific fund or give donors a tangible item or event to donate towards. Though it might seem counterintuitive, if you don’t offer direct services, consider raising money for an organization that does.

Partner up.

Reach out to other nonprofits, even those you view as ‘competitors’ and see how you can work together, whether through joint fundraising, or supporting each other’s programs on the ground.This expands your reach, and will show your supporters that you’re putting your own organization second to an overall relief effort. Partnerships can also give your supporters something to do besides just donate–consider the expanded volunteer opportunities that would open up with multiple organizations coordinating their effort, not to mention the efficiency you gain.

Close the loop.

Keep your supporters and donors updated on the progress you’re making in real time via email and on social media. This is where that online community you’ve worked so hard to build is going to prove its value. If you’re accepting donations, show how the money is being spent with photos and videos. But be sensitive to the tone and frequency of your communications, so they don’t feel too “rah-rah” or overwhelm your list. Finally, be sure you keep any disaster-relief donors segmented in your database so you both know how you acquired them, and know that they respond to specific and timely events. This can help you with future outreach.

Want to know more? Join me for a webinar on Friday, November 16 from 1:00-1:30 p.m. EST for a lively discussion. Sarah Durham and I walk you through what works, how people are doing it well, and what you can do to prepare for the future. The fee is just $10 to register–100% of which will be donated to the Brooklyn Recovery Fund.