The Four P’s to Communicating Through a Disaster
Nonprofits step into the most challenging and persistent issues that impact our world – hunger, homelessness, poverty, disease, addiction, mental illness and so much more. They amaze us with the work they do around the clock, but when disaster or crisis strikes, nonprofits are called to serve on the frontlines. And they depend on support from donors and the community to restore peace in the chaos. Angel Oak Creative has a front row seat to the missions of clients like Overture International, Healing Transitions, Feeding the Carolinas, North Raleigh Ministries, Inter-Faith Food Shuttle and many others responding to crises like earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, a pandemic and the like.
The first step we take with these clients when a crisis hits? Make communications a priority.
But what does prioritizing communications in a crisis look like practically? It means communicating clearly and consistently to donors, recipients and the community about the impact of the crisis, the needs of the organization and how they can support the efforts. Here are a few recommendations for ensuring you and your organization communicate effectively during the next crisis:
1. Be prepared – All nonprofits, but especially those that work in crisis-oriented sectors, should have a crisis response communications plan in place. It doesn’t have to be extremely detailed, but should include a basic framework that includes:
- Who is in charge of the communications efforts and who is on the team,
- Initial messaging for the primary crises that your organization is likely to face,
- Who will be speaking publicly on behalf of the organization,
- A list of relevant media that should be contacted,
- And a template of a landing page so donors and other stakeholders have a home base for supporting your cause.
2. Be proactive – Don’t wait for your stakeholders to request information about the crisis and your response. While situations are dynamic, providing what you know in a timely manner will create a sense of trust, credibility and stability for those who support you, those you serve and the community at large. We worked with North Raleigh Ministries to help them take the initiative to engage their supporters early in the Covid crisis to keep them informed about the dramatic increase in demand for their services as well as the precipitous decrease in their emergency food supplies due to supply chain and public demand. They saw a rapid and generous response from their donors that was generally consistent during the initial months of the crisis.
3. Be persistent – Consistent communication with your stakeholders is essential. Communicating often with detail is critical to effectively engaging donors, recipients and the community. When a 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti in August of 2021, we worked with Overture International to create a consistent rhythm of communication to their donors. For Overture, this meant daily emails for the first month or so with updates on the status of the communities they serve, the rescue and recovery efforts, and providing ways donors can support those affected. After the first wave of daily emails, we reduced the touchpoints between Overture and donors to three emails each week. Donors responded with extreme positivity and financial support. Daily emails may not be right for every organization, but in this case it was possible, effective and appreciated.
4. Be pertinent – If your organization serves in a particular sector, you’re likely a subject matter expert in this area. We call this thought leadership. During a crisis, there is a demand for knowledgeable, credible experts who can share clear information not just about their organization, but about the issues surrounding the crisis. During the early months of the COVID pandemic, Healing Transitions was on the frontlines working within the homeless and addiction sector. They became a go-to resource for media and others seeking information about how this vulnerable population was being impacted by the pandemic, what was being done to address these issues and how the community could play a role.
While we know your top priority during a crisis is to focus on meeting the needs of those you serve, a close second should be to effectively communicate with your stakeholders so they are informed and empowered to act on your behalf. This means being prepared, proactive, persistent and pertinent in your communications efforts. Are you ready for the next crisis? Angel Oak Creative is here to help! Take the first step with number 1 to get prepared for the unexpected today. We’re grateful for your commitment to your cause even in the midst of chaos!