Coronavirus. Just the word sparks a visceral response. The entire world is on alert, and it’s no different here in the Triangle. As the illness spreads, being prepared isn’t just about stocking up on hand sanitizer. Nonprofits should have a solid crisis communications plan in place to manage the potential impact and communicate well with their stakeholders.
Case in point is one of our clients Trinity Academy, a Christian school in Raleigh. Shortly after the first few cases of the virus were reported in Raleigh, one of Trinity’s parents unfortunately tested positive. In response to the news, Trinity administrators responded in all the right ways – promptly, clearly and decisively. Their response can teach us some great lessons about crisis communications, whether it’s the coronavirus or something else entirely.
Based on how well the school responded, I’m confident Trinity Academy had a crisis communications plan in place for how to handle these types of incidents. They quickly responded (within hours) with communications to their parents, students and health officials, and made representatives available to the press. This prompt response mitigated fears that would likely arise from the news and positioned Trinity as a competent and responsive organization that cares about its students, families and the community. Remember the old adage: if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
Be Open and Honest
Based on emails the school sent to parents that were shared in press reports, Trinity was open and honest about the situation and was committed to keeping parents and the community informed. Statements like this one from Trinity Head of School Timothy Bridges to parents helped instill confidence and trust with their constituents – “At this point, while the Wake County Health Department did not advise that we close school, and they have emphasized that the risk to our students remains minimal, I have decided, out of an abundance of caution, to close school for Tuesday.” The school didn’t shy away from the issues – instead, they communicated openly and actually leveraged the press to help inform and alleviate public concerns.
Clearly and honestly addressing the issue is just the first step in managing a crisis. Working to resolve the issues and communicating your plan of action is an important step in continuing to build trust. Once Trinity identified that the parent had a positive diagnosis and communicated the closure, they followed shortly with a clear action plan that included suggestions for next steps for parents, the school’s decision to hire a professional cleaning firm to clean the campus and CDC guidelines on how to limit exposure to and spreading of the virus. By communicating their plan, they demonstrated they are a trusted ally in the situation.
Trinity Academy’s planning, transparency and focus on solutions built a foundation of trust that will serve them well as they navigate this situation and future challenging situations at the school. Their proactive approach to communications also greatly limited the need for parents and the public to speculate on the unknown, which would likely lead to some degree of panic and mistrust. So, in other words, Trinity Academy crushed it when it comes to communicating through the crisis. While it’s not over yet, we have no doubt they will continue to respond just as effectively for as long as the situation endures – which we all hope is not much longer.
So, if there’s one thing to learn from this overview of Trinity’s efforts, it should be this – be prepared! If your organization doesn’t have a crisis communications plan in place, begin the process today. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. At the minimum, identify potential scenarios, develop proactive responses, create strategic messaging and identify key spokespeople. And, if you’d like help, Angel Oak Creative would be honored to assist you.