Create a Foolproof Crisis Communication Plan for Your Nonprofit

Communication plans are essential for all nonprofits, but during a crisis, your regular communication plan will take second place to a crisis communication plan. You never expect an emergency, but a communication plan and strategy specific to such situations must be in place. This plan must address different scenarios and include several team members. This…

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Create a Foolproof Crisis Communication Plan for Your Nonprofit

crisis communication plan

Communication plans are essential for all nonprofits, but during a crisis, your regular communication plan will take second place to a crisis communication plan.

You never expect an emergency, but a communication plan and strategy specific to such situations must be in place. This plan must address different scenarios and include several team members.

This article discusses the steps you can take to create a foolproof crisis communication plan and other things to include.

  1. What is crisis communication?
  2. 7 steps to create a foolproof crisis communication plan
  3. What to include in your crisis communication policy

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What is Crisis Communication?

Nonprofit crisis communication refers to the circulation of information that must take place in case of a crisis or emergency that adversely impacts the organization.

A crisis communication plan includes the steps nonprofit leaders must follow in emergencies. Crisis communication plans focus on what messages you’ll use, how to address the public, what steps to take to ensure the situation doesn’t happen again, and when those steps must be taken.

While no nonprofit will think of it, a crisis can happen at any time. Examples of such situations may include –

  • Financial loss.
  • Employee layoffs or sudden changes in staff behavior.
  • Misconduct of organizational practices.
  • Outside challenges such as natural disasters.
  • Technological failure within the organization.
  • Workplace violence among staff members or volunteers.
  • Confrontation or complaints from a discontent member, donor, beneficiary, etc.

And more. These are only a few example scenarios but you must always be prepared to tackle any crisis situation at hand. The right steps with a foolproof plan will make it achievable.

7 Essential Steps to Create a Foolproof Crisis Communication Plan

Creating a crisis communication plan takes several steps and requires several people to ensure its success. When developing a plan, you must include steps with activation criteria that share who can take them and when.

1. Identify and assess example crisis scenarios

When you begin to develop your crisis communication plan, you must formulate scenarios for several different situations. We have already shared the list of possible scenarios in the previous section.

The below example is from a school crisis management plan (page 88) that clearly lists the steps and measures to take while dealing with a relevant crisis situation.

crisis communication plan examples

2. Identify stakeholders

Once you have a list of potential crises, you must prepare a list of team members that should be contacted and responsible for steps in the communication plan. The most apparent stakeholders involved are your organization’s Executive Director, Board Members, Marketing Team, and potentially Human Resources.

First, you must designate a main spokesperson for the organization. Board or staff directors usually have this responsibility. Since you have no idea what type of crisis you’ll face, you must also plan for situations when you cannot use your original spokesperson.

In these cases, you’ll want a group of members to finalize your organization’s message and create a hierarchy for sharing information. You must also have team members monitor responses to your communication. Remember, a crisis means you must act quickly, so ensure all team members are easily accessible.

All other members of your crisis communication plan must have clear roles and responsibilities. When determining these roles, ensure they’re straightforward to follow.

We’ll continue with the same previous example (from page 9) for you to understand the best way to document your communication hierarchy in a crisis situation.

crisis communication strategy

3. Create an escalation framework

Crises are stressful, and not everyone can respond without support. Your organization must have a detailed plan to walk your team through each crisis step.

Your escalation framework should use the following steps:

  • Alert stakeholders – this must be done quickly.
  • Assess the situation – ask questions like what happened? Who was affected? How much do we know?
  • Activate your team – all team members have their responsibilities. Now is the time to put planning into action.
  • Monitor the situation – as you inform staff and the public, you must continue monitoring what is happening on the ground and how people react.
  • Discuss results – once the immediate crisis is addressed and staff and the public has been informed, you can discuss with your team how it was handled, the following steps, and any changes that can ensure it doesn’t happen again.

4. Decide on internal communications

In all crises, your staff must be made aware of the situation first. Your organization’s stakeholders must find ways to reach all staff members via emails, text, phone calls, etc.

Employees must be informed of the situation and what they can say to the media and the public. Including these details in staff and volunteer training and onboarding is best.

5. Include emergency contacts

You must also contact other emergency organizations during a crisis. Your crisis communication plan must have updated contact information for the following organizations –

  • Local government offices.
  • Public health.
  • Evacuation centers.
  • Police and fire departments.
  • Red Cross centers.
  • Vendors and suppliers you need to contact during a crisis.

6. Write down media guidelines

Finally, your crisis communication plan must include all media guidelines. This includes who you’ll contact and how you respond to those who contact you.

After determining your public message, the primary goal of your media guidelines should be to determine which communication channels you’ll use.

6.1 Website

Your website is your nonprofit’s business card and the best way to share what you want the public to know. In a crisis, your website home page should provide the public with updated information.

You’ll also want to give an email, phone number, or link to a separate landing page or social media account where members of the public can ask questions and receive more details.

6.2 Social media

Most nonprofits have social media accounts. Ignoring these accounts during a crisis is dangerous, as you may lose control over the narrative.

Your communication plan must include one or two team members to monitor your social media pages and provide updates to the public.

6.3 Local press and media

Your organization can use the media to share vital information with the public and control what the press discusses during the crisis. When creating your communication plan, you need a list of media sources and their most up-to-date contacts.

7. Identify and answer common questions

Regardless of the crisis, there are a few questions you must ask yourself.

  • Is anyone in immediate danger?
  • Have you taken all the necessary steps to handle the crisis? What steps are you on?
  • Is your staff aware of the crisis?
  • Is more information needed before addressing the public?
  • What questions will the public ask?

Once you’ve answered these internal questions, you’ll want to have answers prepared for the public’s questions. There are a few details the media and the public will want to hear:

  • What is the crisis?
  • Who is in charge?
  • What is the result of your crisis management plan? When will we hear about the results?
  • Share compassion for victims.
  • How can the public help?

You mustn’t reveal private information (until next-of-kin has been notified or other legal requirements).

Pro tip: As you indulge in communications with the public including your donors, make sure to note these details in your donor database. It will help build a stronger relationship with them in the future. Donorbox Donor Management lets you add communication notes to every donor record by selecting the mode and direction of communication, as shown below.

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What to Include in Your Crisis Communication Policy

Crisis communication policy is the detailed document your organization should maintain and circulate internally so every key person knows how to react in the state of a crisis. The essential elements of this policy would be –

1. First steps checklist

Many people need a detailed checklist to ensure they don’t miss a step. Checklists must include steps to contact stakeholders, address the situation, contact emergency services, contact staff, and prepare messages for the public.

You may also want to include the team members responsible for each step.

Here’s an example of a checklist (page 90) for a possible crisis situation in a school.

crisis communication plan examples

2. Media call log

You’ve already created media guidelines and a list of contacts for your team, but you must track how and when all media contacts occur. This is where a media call log comes in handy.

Team members in charge of sharing details with the press must enter names, dates, times, and information shared with the media in these logs.

3. Fact sheet

Fact sheets can include an overview of the nonprofit’s historical and current program facts and staff and board member information.

These facts will provide the media and the public with crucial information about the organization.

4. Profiles and biographies

You must also include brief profiles and biographies for staff leadership and board members along with your fact sheet. This helps anyone reading the policy document understand their previous experience and expertise in handling a similar crisis situation.

5. Copies of organization logos/photos

Other communication pieces that can help address media questions are your nonprofit’s logo and photos of programs, beneficiaries, and events.

Include them in your policy under a separate section for people to easily access them in times of need. This can be especially helpful for your marketing team and people delegated to take care of social media or email communications.

6. News release templates

Your organization will want to control the narrative during all crises. The best way to do this is to send media sources a news release that addresses the issue.

Since you can’t plan for the exact crisis, you’ll want a template to be in place so that your team can prepare releases quickly. This helps save time as well in adverse situations.

Final Thoughts

Nonprofit communications include how to address donors using donor management systems, compelling stories, and personalized communication tools. However, in a crisis, your communication plan will not only include your donors but organizational stakeholders, other members, the media, and the public at large.

Donorbox has written an article on how nonprofits could address communications during Covid-19. Your organization can use these tips to help form a crisis communication plan. You can also find a plethora of other useful blogs, guides, and resources on our Nonprofit Blog. Subscribe to our newsletter and we’ll send our best resources directly to your inbox every month.

If your organization is looking to effectively manage all supporters in one place and create personalized communication plans for lasting relationships, Donorbox Donor Management is here to help! We also have a number of simple and affordable features for fundraising. Check them out on the website. Sign up for free to get started now!

If you’d rather have a customized success package for better fundraising and donor acquisition, Donorbox Premium is what you need! Learn more here.

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Kristine Ensor is a freelance writer with over a decade of experience working with local and international nonprofits. As a nonprofit professional she has specialized in fundraising, marketing, event planning, volunteer management, and board development.

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