Sooner or later, most nonprofits and ministries encounter some sort of crisis situation. It might happen because of something someone did, a decision made by the organization or not made. Whatever the situation, the time is filled with stress and a desire to run away and avoid the crisis. However, the key to leading the organization through a crisis and coming out strong is preparation.
Preparation for a crisis event or situation begins with expecting the unexpected. While not pleasant, planning for such crises is a role of the board of directors. Think for a minute about situations that could happen —-
- A hurricane or tornado could destroy the facilities of the organization
- Misappropriation of funds could tarnish the reputation of the organization
- Loss of major funding could impact program or service delivery
- Criminal action of a staff member could leave the organization without staff and in a difficult position in the community
It is wise for board members to spend some time thinking about the situations the organization could encounter and what will happen if the unthinkable happens. It is the role of the board to ensure the organization acts in an ethical and legal manner in all crisis situations. However, it is also important to recognize that handling a crisis requires a careful balance of transparency and not over-communicating before the situation can be addressed.
Through our own personal experiences, we can recognize that crises are not over quickly….as much as we wish they were, they rarely end neatly in 24 hours. Things happen, people talk and as information is released, different opinions and perspectives begin to emerge. A crisis communication plan will ensure key stakeholders are kept abreast of the facts no matter how the situation might spin. As part of the organization’s crisis communication plan, it is important to have one spokesperson who is responsible for relaying information to the public, to donors, to staff and to clients. This will ensure that the same message is shared with all stakeholders.
Many organizations never develop a crisis communications plan until they realize they are in need of it. Some of the questions that need to be answered by the plan include:
- Who will represent and speak for the organization?
- Who will be managing the crisis and what exactly will they do?
- What resources will be needed while managing the crisis?
The plan should clearly define the roles for board members and for key staff; it is best to do this now before a crisis occurs and things get really confusing. As the plan is being developed, it is also necessary to think about a media strategy and to identify the platforms that will be used to communicate with stakeholders.
While a crisis situation will never be pleasant, with some forethought and preplanning organizations can come through them as strong, if not stronger than ever.