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3 Takeaways From the First 30 days of COVID-19: Crisis Communications for Nonprofits

By Venice Fahey

Our nonprofit partners work incredibly hard on a daily basis to serve stakeholders, reach new donors and ultimately improve communities. Often, our clients wear many different hats, working long hours on small teams with limited resources. And that’s before dealing with a crisis.

The past thirty days have been rough. But working alongside nonprofits like Serving Seniors – whose main demographic is one of the most vulnerable to this virus – has been some of the most important and rewarding work of my career.

Here are a few strategies that can help nonprofits navigate through crisis situations:

Get your action plans in place: First things first – get your organization’s leadership team in a room to nail down the chain of command, key spokespeople and protocol. Once a crisis hits, there will be aftershocks. Think about all the other scenarios that could happen as a result of this crisis, and identify the ways in which you would tackle those issues. For example, if you can no longer distribute meals at a dining hall, can you deliver? Will that require additional resources for cars, drivers, etc.? What steps will be put in place if someone is exposed to the virus? How will you handle staff/employee sicknesses? Once you have a list of anticipated scenarios in place, you can work to draft template statements for inbound questions from the public/media. You’re not going to have all the information (especially in an unprecedented situation like COVID-19) but having template statements prepared will not only make it easier to quickly respond to questions, it will also serve as an important exercise for your team to think through the “If/Then” scenarios.

Be upfront and share updates often: In a time of panic, people want to feel reassured. The best way to reassure your stakeholders during a crisis is by clearly communicating how they are being protected. Outline specific steps/protocols being put in place, and make it easy for your audiences to find that information (ideally, it would live on a separate landing page on your website – here’s an example). Communication directly from your CEO is a good way of showing how seriously you’re taking it. Share updates often and on the right platforms – this can be a mix depending on your target audiences, but we’ve found success in sharing via newsletters, video messages, and even daily updates on Facebook Live at a specific time so followers know when to tune in.

Ask your network for help: Tap into your network of board members, volunteers and staff by creating a ‘toolkit’ with simple ways they can help spread the word and fundraise. This toolkit should include an overview of your campaign along with template messaging for the various platforms (i.e. email, Facebook, LinkedIn, Nextdoor, etc.) and relevant image assets, making it easy for employees/partners to copy, paste and share. For example, ask volunteers to create a personal Facebook fundraiser for your organization. Not only will it give them a bigger sense of personal impact, it can also go far in spreading organic reach. The toolkit doesn’t have to be fancy – a simple Word document is all you need.

One last bit of advice: don’t forget to share the good stuff. Odds are, your nonprofit is working hard to do good in your community. Consider sharing inspirational stories of clients/staff/volunteers to help bring some light to a gloomy situation. People are always looking for some good news.