Preparing for a Crisis

Sometime in everyone’s career, regardless of how lucky or strategic you have been, something happens that you cannot control. It doesn’t usually happen at the most convenient time, either.

During such a “crisis” you have to stay on top of what is happening and deal with the situation maturely and with control.

A non-profit crisis can come in the form of a scandal (the accountant ran away with $50,000), through an “act of God (as in the Asian tsunami or Hurricane Katrina), or the executive director all of a sudden leaves under “cloudy circumstances.”

However and whenever a serious crisis occurs you should be prepared with a media strategy that minimizes your organization’s risk of going under. So, this week let’s look at ways you can successfully deal with a crisis in your non-profit.

  1. Don’t totally panic and give the message that you have absolutely no idea what to do. Try to stay relatively calm and give the message to your staff and leadership that you will all be able to handle this situation.
  2. Appoint one spokesperson and form a crisis team of three or four people inside the organization to deal with the situation. The team’s job is to determine what the spokesperson will say to the media. Make sure that only one person (preferably someone who is articulate and understands the issues) is authorized to talk with the media.
  3. Be honest with the media at all times and communicate exactly what you know. If you don’t know answers to questions, say you don’t know the answer and that you will get back to the person who asked the question within 24 hours.
  4. Be pro-active with the media, your funding sources, and your stakeholders and communicate with them through e-mail and telephone calls. Try not to let them find out about what happened through the media and other outside sources.
  5. Make a list of the key media contacts now so that when you need them you will have them at your fingertips. Get to know at least one media contact personally so you can have someone who might be able to guide you through the maze.
  6. Write a script for the person who answers the phone at your office and also for your board members and key volunteers. Even though they will not be authorized to talk with the media, they will have contact with the community and they need to know what the talking points are.
  7. Brief the members of your core leadership team dailyon the updates so they will be able to communicate these updates to others. This will also help them feel a sense of confidence in regards to coming out of the crisis in decent shape.
  8. Have a lawyer available to advise you if there are any legal or liability issues. Make sure you have an attorney review any press releases you plan on sending out.
  9. Learn from the crisis and make sure you evaluate how you have done with your crisis team and board/staff leadership.
  10. Develop a report based upon your notes . Include specific recommendations on what you would do differently so the next time this happens you will have a solid, pre-tested plan in place.