Does Your Organization Have a Crisis Communications Plan?

Silver compass
04.24.2013By

The best organizations are always asking: “What keeps our supporters up at night? What are their hopes and dreams, concerns and fears?”

This mindset is especially important during a crisis, like last week’s Boston Marathon bombing. Everyone was (and still is) feeling concerned, worried, angry, afraid or confused. During these times you risk appearing insensitive if you’re not careful.

Last week, Nancy Schwartz shared points to keep in mind when communicating during a crisis like the one we had last week. Below is a summary of her main points.

1. Turn off auto-pilot. One great thing about technology is that it’s given us the ability to automate a lot of our communications. Particularly with Twitter and email marketing. But this automation can create unforeseen problems during a crisis. For example, my buffer account spit out a tweet at 3:02PM last Monday (shown below). I quickly apologized for the tweet and cleared out the balance of tweets for that day.

2. Don’t go dark. Not saying anything right after a disaster is almost as bad as saying the wrong thing. Keep in mind that you’ve built up a community who depends on you during times of crisis. Nancy writes, “Your network counts on your work to carry our world to a better place.”

3. Listen to your community. Spent some time listening to what your community is saying during a disaster. Especially during the first few hours. This will help you better understand how you can be useful and relevant to your community during a time when they’re feeling afraid, angry and confused. After listening to what people were saying among my circles, I put published this article.

4. Offer help. Regardless of how close your cause is related to the disaster or not, you can still offer help. For example, the MFA offered a place for people to gather just after the bombing (below).

5. Review and adjust your communications plans for the next week or two. If you have a plan to launch a fundraising campaign in the next week or two, put it on hold.

6. Careful with Metaphors. Review your planned messaging for any metaphors that could seem offensive. For example, avoid using a “bomb” metaphor, even if it’s a “love bomb”.

7. Careful about linking your messaging to the disaster. Nancy recommends linking a fundraising ask to the disaster only if the link is obvious. “Link your message to the bombing only if there is an organic link (e.g. children’s health and well-being, violence prevention, gun control, public safety, anti-terrorism.) Otherwise, avoid trying to capitalize on a tragedy. You’ll fail, miserably.”

8. Get a gut-check. Ask for feedback about your approach from your marketing team, or as Nancy recommends “reach out to a few current supporters in each of your segments, asking for five minutes of their time for a quick call.”

9. Formulate a crisis communications plan. Develop a formal process that starts with listening to your community right after a disaster and is followed with reviewing all queued communications.

More post-tragedy guidance:

How to Communicate Post-Disaster — Guidelines for Respectful but Effective Outreach (Haitian earthquake)

Communicating in the Shadow of Disaster – Practical Tips for Nonprofits (Japanese earthquake and Pacific tsunami)

  • John, thanks for sharing these guidelines. I’m interested in what you and the Razoo community can add or suggest a change to here, plus examples of their responses to the bombing (from silence to changing content to….). Hope folks will share here.

    • Nancy – Most of what I’ve seen are posts along the lines of “Our hearts go out to the people of Boston”, which sounds like a press release.

      I love what the MFA did, which required a lot more thought.