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Is Your Nonprofit Prepared for a Crisis?

The bright, sunny day outside the U.S. Navy Memorial, just a few blocks away from the Navy Yard, belies the tragedy that occurred the day before The bright, sunny day outside the U.S. Navy Memorial, just a few blocks away from the Navy Yard, belies the tragedy that occurred the day before.

September’s tragic shooting at the Navy Yard was a good reminder that all organizations need to have an effective crisis communications plan in place. Does your nonprofit have one? And, more important, when was the plan last updated?

Too often organizations relegate this odious task to the back burner. After all, what is the likelihood your nonprofit will ever experience a true crisis?

But, sadly, crises are making the news much quicker, due in large part to social media. Nowadays everyone is a “citizen journalist,” and news — whether accurate or not — spreads instantly. There are the highly publicized events that garner widespread attention like the Boston marathon bombings and the shooting at the Navy Yard, and smaller, more localized events that may or may not make national headlines.

In doing a quick Google search of recent crises in the nonprofit sector, here’s just a smattering of what comes up:

How quickly an organization responds to a crisis and how transparent it is in its communications will determine how rapidly it will emerge from the crisis and, in some cases, its long-term survival and reputation (think Susan G. Komen and Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong Foundation.)

Crisis communications planning is a long-term, comprehensive process. But here are a few key points to keep in mind:

  1. Have a crisis communications plan. This sounds like it’s stating the obvious, but it’s surprising how many nonprofits (and for-profits!) do not have a plan.
  2. Make sure your plan is updated. Kudos if your organization actually has a crisis plan. The next step is to make sure it is up to date.
  3. Practice your plan on a regular basis. This is where many organizations falter. After all, it’s viewed as a nuisance to take time to practice “what-if” situations. How many times has your office conducted a fire drill and you were tempted to hide in your cubicle because you are just too busy to leave? Yet, ask anyone who has ever experienced a fire, and they suddenly are very thankful those annoying drills were conducted!
  4. Don’t let your plan gather dust. It’s critical to revisit your plan on at least an annual basis, perhaps more often depending on your business. It serves no purpose to develop a terrific plan and then never look at it. And it is amazing how quickly plans become outdated!

The goal in any crisis situation is to put the event behind you as quickly as possible and resume normal business operations, hopefully with minimal damage to your organization’s reputation.

Karen Addis Karen Addis

The preceding is a guest post by Karen Addis, APR, is senior vice president at Van Eperen & Company, a full-service communications and marketing agency. You can contact her at You can also follow her on Twitter at @karenaddis or connect with her on LinkedIn at

Topics: Communications