Handle crises responsibly and openly

When your nonprofit is dealing with a serious problem is not the time to run, hide and pretend nothing is wrong.

A crisis is the time to show you are true to your cause, and to reassure your constituents, donors, partners and the public that you are aware of the problem and dealing with it.

So be honest and direct about what is wrong and what you are doing to fix it.

You certainly should not put your organization at legal risk or violate anyone’s privacy by disclosing information or data that may be sensitive or undocumented.

But it is essential, particularly when you start fielding questions from reporters or concerned constituents, to be candid and clear, and to not try to spin a bad situation or paint your organization as flawless or blameless.

You also should be prepared in advance by creating a crisis communications plan.

The plan should designate a crisis team, including key staff and board members.

When a problem arises, the team should assemble — whether in person or by phone or other digital connection — to define the problem, determine what if anything to say about it, identify who should craft that message and who should speak for the organization, and decide whether and how to distribute the information.

There is no right answer to any of this. What is important is to address those issues and be prepared to deal with constituents, donors, reporters and others who start asking questions.

In a crisis, do not stick your head in the sand and delude yourself into thinking no one can see you.

Instead of hiding, rise to the occasion and show why the people you serve, and your supporters, should stick with you.

Want help?

Philanthropy North Carolina is a consulting practice that provides writing and strategic communications support for nonprofits, foundations, colleges and universities, and others working for social good.

To find out more about hiring Philanthropy North Carolina to work with your organization to improve your communications, contact Todd Cohen at 919.272.2051 or toddcohen49@gmail.com.

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