Crisis Communications: Be Aware, Be Prepared, Be Proactive

nonprofit strategy

It’s not a matter of if, but when. As nonprofit professionals committed to doing “good,” we’d all like to think we’re immune to a public relations crisis.

However, just like corporations, nonprofits are susceptible to catastrophes beyond our control, whether they are in the form of natural disasters, changes in leadership or issues with partners.

Obviously, none of us ever wants to deal with a crisis situation. Yet, smart nonprofits today are aware that a crisis can happen at any time. With this in mind, they are prepared with a solid game plan so that if a situation does occur, the team can be as proactive as possible.

If followed correctly, a crisis communications plan can:

  • Protect your nonprofit’s reputation and brand.
  • Minimize confusion and rumors.
  • Keep confidence and satisfaction among key constituents and shareholders.
  • Protect financial resources and save management time.
  • Ensure that accurate, timely, consistent information is shared.


So, What’s Your Plan?

The basic concept of effective crisis communications is not a difficult one, but it does require careful planning and prep work in order to minimize damage.

One effective way to reduce potential damage is to ensure that all key players – this means staff, board members, volunteers – are aware of your crisis communications plan.

Here are five more tips for better crisis management:

  1. Don’t wait until disaster strikes. Be proactive and develop a “hypothetical” crisis, and a plan to address it. Educate yourself and your team, and talk to actual people who have lived through similar experiences.
  2. Be ready for all types of catastrophes, big and small. Just over the last year alone, some of IPM’s clients have experienced a Founders’ death, embezzlement by a CFO and the results of hurricane devastation. Each crisis has required a different plan and a different response.
  3. Develop a written plan and identify your crisis team. This plan should outline which team member will handle which task (and when). Essentially, these individuals are your first responders. They will oversee the crisis management process, gather and fact-check information, and communicate with employees, media, partners and all stakeholders. The team should include your senior leaders, including HR, operations and finance, and development and communications.
  4. Use social media. Remember to keep your social pages up-to-date. One recent study revealed that some nonprofits often do not respond to social media questions or complaints. However, at IPM, we believe social media is one of the best ways to show the human face of your organization, to reinforce its reputation for being kind, sympathetic, polite and accurate, as well as a source of unbiased information.
  5. Be prepared to speak to the media. Not every crisis results in media calls, but you still need to be prepared. Be sure your spokesperson prepares and practices responses to potential questions an interviewer is likely to ask. You also can ensure there is time to prepare by having media procedures in place that direct all inquiries to one person. This individual can be the one who will screen calls and prevent your spokesperson from being put on the spot.

The bottom line: bad things happen to good nonprofits, so it’s vital to always be prepared for a crisis. Follow these suggestions to develop a crisis communications plan you can depend on.


On average, new IPM clients see a 34.8% increase in direct mail fundraising acquisition response rates within the first year of working with us. Want to learn more?

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