By James D’Ambrosio

JamesProfile1TwitterCrises occur in business all the time — private entities, government, family-owned operations, large and small enterprises, etc. Nonprofits, just because they’re helping those in need or advocating a progressive cause, doesn’t preclude them from business crises. Things can and will go wrong. And when something happens, what matters most is how you deal with it, which can make the difference between a temporary setback and a major hit to operations and organizational credibility.


That said, here are some ways to navigate a crisis and minimize its impact:

1) GET THE STORY OUT QUICKLY: Many organizations, fearing negative publicity, fail to provide full information when it becomes available. This makes matters worse, as details trickle out over days and weeks, prolonging the crisis and keeping it in the news. Conversely, getting news out quickly shortens its life span. (Note: Sometimes, for a variety of reasons, certain details cannot be disclosed immediately; see item 3 below.)

2) DESIGNATE ONE SPOKESPERSON: Nothing stirs controversy more than mixed messages. When information comes from multiple sources, accuracy/consistency suffers. Designate one person to communicate with the media — the executive director or senior public relations professional — and ensure staff know who the person is and to refer all media inquiries to him/her.

3) INTERACTING WITH THE MEDIA: At the outset of a crisis, the media will be at your door — quickly. You may not be able to comment on details yet to be verified or sensitive information with legal ramifications. When pressed by reporters, explain some information cannot yet be disclosed, but you’ll provide it as soon as possible. Avoid saying “No comment.” This breeds suspicion. If reporters believe you’re hiding something, they’ll seek other sources — staff, board members, the public or others  who may not champion your cause. This often leads to misinformation and loss of control over the story. A reasonable amount of candor and sincerity helps keep the media in your corner. In fact, being forthright during a crisis builds credibility, helping to place more favorable stories in the future.

4) HAVE A WRITTEN PLAN: A crisis communications plan facilitates the above, specifying what has to be done, how it will be done, by whom, and when. All agencies of some size should have a plan and update it regularly. Since many smaller agencies lack the resources to develop a plan, consider tapping a board member with PR expertise, hiring a consultant on a project basis, or seeking pro-bono assistance from a PR firm.


The above is merely a few aspects of this issue. There’s far more to crisis communication than can be addressed here (whole books have been devoted to the subject). Depending on the nature and scope of an emergency, you may need to hold a press conference, consult legal counsel, provide space for reporters to write/send copy, etc. The point here is helping nonprofits recognize the importance of this issue and incorporating it into their business planning.



A) Do you have a crisis management experience you’d like to share? B) Resources that might help others?


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