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Building a Proactive Crisis Communication Strategy

This communication strategy comes from Saadia Ahmed, principal of Fluff and Logic LLP, where she focuses on event planning, social media optimization, individual major giving, and annual fund development. Saadia also partners with Talem Consulting as a project consultant. She graduated in International Studies from Austin College where she intensified her commitment to serving the community. She is a community and thought leader in Dallas/Fort Worth in addition to being a founder and adviser to numerous nonprofit and community initiatives. You can connect with Saadia on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Though uncertainty is all around us this April, this is the holiest of months for those celebrating Passover, Easter, and Ramadan. It may feel as though our faith is being tested, as individuals and organizational leaders, as we struggle to find meaning and humanity during this pandemic. I encourage you to hold your faith and connectedness near over the coming weeks and months as you communicate with your community – sharing the concerns, struggles, and successes your nonprofit is facing during these trying times.

My own faith has informed my work in the nonprofit sector where I have focused on building communication strategies for communities of color and diverse faiths. I’d like to share some recommendations that all nonprofits can utilize as they develop a communication strategy in relation to the unparalleled COVID-19 situation.

  1. Assess who your key stakeholders are; they may include donors, volunteers, staff members, program participants, among others.

  2. Ask yourself what your stakeholders' concerns may be right now and communicate immediately and consistently. It is likely to vary based on their relationship with the organization. Staff members may fear for the future of their job, participants may wonder if programs will continue during this time, volunteers may fear engaging due to viral spread, donors may wonder if the organization will remain financially stable. Bring your leadership team together virtually to brainstorm how to communicate around these concerns to ensure the most comprehensive strategy.

  3. Center transparency in your messaging by addressing basic questions and concerns such as changes to business hours or staffing modifications. While you should communicate deftly, do not push information out to the public without a strategy as your initial messaging should be correct as you will build on it as more details arise around COVID-19.

  4. Create an organization-wide working document to ensure that you can quickly inform your internal staff team with changes to evolving messaging. This is particularly important as clients, donors, volunteers, and others will reach out to their personal point of contact or social media for updates on your organization. Consider creating a standard message that team members can share in email signatures or social media as they spread your message to the community.

People are looking for hope, encouragement, and inspiration amidst the uncertainty and anxiety of our quickly changing environment. Your organization’s messaging may be viewed as a coping strategy for members of your community. As you draft emails, social media posts, mail appeal letters, newsletters, and other communications consider how your organization can help identify meaning during this time. By reframing your narrative around humanity, you can help accelerate readjustment and reduce feelings of vulnerability.

  • Reaffirm your organization’s commitment to your mission, especially in the context of this current crisis.

  • Focus on how your organization is helping the community and serving as a system of support at this time. Your message can be presented as a video or note of reassurance from the CEO’s desk.

  • Check-in with your leadership team daily to assess what questions may be arising in response to your messaging, update accordingly to address questions and concerns, and revise your internal working document.

For most organizations, their website, email platform, and social media outlets are primary communication channels.

  • Post key messages on the top of your homepage so it is the first thing visitors see.

  • Send an email reiterating your message to your email contacts and don’t be afraid to include a soft ask with a link directing them to your donation page.

  • Be honest about how this pandemic is impacting your organization financially and how your supporters can help. However, be cognizant of what the situation may be for those you are emailing- it’s likely they may be furloughed or laid off from their jobs or located in a city that is more impacted by the pandemic. If your email list is segmented, you may choose to tailor emails to those who may be impacted more directly.

  • Post your messaging on all your social media channels. Ensure your team is monitoring comments and questions on social media so you can update and evolve your messaging.

  • Video conferencing platforms are becoming an increasingly effective way to stay in visual communication with the community. There are multiple user-friendly and cost-efficient options ranging from Zoom*, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams, BlueJeans Meetings, Zoho Meetings, Skype, Cisco WebEx, Google Hangouts, Slack, amongst others. Host a class, workshop, or town hall to provide two-way communication and face time with members, donors, volunteers, and your organization’s leadership and staff.

We understand that this is a trying time and its difficult to be proactive in a situation that is constantly evolving. Your transparency, honesty, consistency, and authenticity will be valued by your community as we all journey through the unknown together.

Be kind to yourself and your team. You are not alone at this moment. If you need further resources, Talem is here to help; we are providing free 30-minute consultations to nonprofits to support your fundraising, communications, and organizational sustainability.

Below are some resources that will help guide your organization and strengthen your organization’s relationships.

*Note about Zoom: NPR reports that a civil rights group is demanding that Zoom do more to stop harassment on its video-conferencing platform. There are reported instances of Zoombombing which includes racist slurs and hate speech. While there are some workarounds for Zoom to avoid this please be aware that this may be a concern when working with community groups who may already be dealing with racial, religious, or other forms of discrimination.

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