Crises come in all forms: health; humanitarian; natural disaster; technological; financial; family; community; etc. And though circumstances change, your response shouldn’t.
In early 2020, COVID19 brought a harsh reality to many organizations and businesses around the world that they weren’t ready for a significant crisis. But while everyone is practicing social distancing, it’s a good idea to reflect on what has already happened, and how it could have been handled better.
Crises WILL happen. And the best way to be prepared is to acknowledge that fact. Here are some important steps you must take to prepare for the next crisis:
Before the crisis…
Crises will happen. It’s inevitable. Regardless of their severity, your business could find itself in a tough spot. And paying attention to the news, trends, types of crises that could significantly impact your business can be a great way to soften the blow should something happen.
Develop a contingency plan and determine a realistic process.
The best thing you could possibility do is accept reality and plan for the worst. The content of your contingency plan varies by industry and populations served. But a skeleton plan is better than being blindsided and can buy you some valuable think time.
Designate your crisis team.
Though your organization might be small (or even just you), you should make sure you have someone serving as:
- the communications lead – this person should work to protect your brand’s voice and develop clear and concise messaging that answers as many questions as possible;
- a spokesperson – this person should remain calm and cool in the face of the public. From press conferences, to appearances, to briefings, your organization has the potential to be in the public eye, and you want to look confident and prepared;
- a contact – this is the person who answers (out of the public eye) to the public. This person should partner with the communications lead so that everyone and everything is on the same page.
During the crisis…
Batten down the hatches. But do your best to communicate as early as possible. Even if your plan isn’t in full motion, it’s best to acknowledge the crisis and notify the audience that you are developing a more robust plan and will communicate as soon as details are ironed out.
A crisis can really take a toll on a business. But it shouldn’t take a toll on your organization’s confidence in its ability to mitigate. Be transparent and authentic about what’s going on and what you’re doing to fix it. And for goodness sakes, please avoid “no comment.” Pro Tip: If you don’t want to comment, you can answer with something like, “Let me go back to my team with my question to get the answer.”
Depending on the type of crisis, people who are close to your organization will be waiting to hear from you once you’ve communicated. Especially if you’ve said you’d communicate with more details later, you should prioritize actually communicating those more details. You can also work with your communications lead to draft some key messages and create template responses for the entire team to use.
Keep your audience in mind.
You should ALWAYS have your audience in mind, but you want to be super sensitive about how they may take your messaging. It’s okay if you soften or strengthen your messaging for specific audiences (whether that be actual segments or through different communication vehicles).
When it’s over…or calm…or solved…
It’s a great habit to host debriefs after any big event. In this case, it’s a big event that was unplanned. While it’s still fresh in your team’s minds, have a discussion about what went well and what could have gone better. Then be sure to incorporate this feedback into your contingency plans for crises of the future.
Take a breath.
Crises are taxing. And once you’ve weathered the storm, you deserve to take a breath. Treat yourself to some rest and relaxation, show gratitude to everyone who helped get the organization through it, and get ready to move forward.
We’re all in this together. Be kind, take care of your neighbors, and wash your hands.
For more tips about crisis planning, crisis communication, and business continuity for nonprofits, visit the Nonprofit Risk Management Center.