Your communications toolkit for internal crisis from our partner Fifty Acres

Fifty Acres is Australia's leading communications and engagement agency that believes in doing great work, for good.

Crisis management is not generally associated with the not-for-profit (NFP) sector, sometimes situations can emerge that require an immediate approach. Whether it’s a data breach, reputation impact on the organisation (such as criminal acts of a staff member or volunteer), or reduction of services due to funding cuts, understanding crisis management should always be an integral part of your toolbox.

Being proactive in crisis planning is a key strategy for mitigating an organisation’s reputational and operational risks. Understanding potential issues before they happen helps to minimise the potential negative impact.

Establish a Crisis Management Team and Crisis Management Strategy

Collecting representatives from throughout your organisation to establish a Crisis Management Team, ensuring any response is collaborative, is your first step to managing a crisis. Identifying members of this team can be part of your Crisis Management Strategy.

The strategy will provide a blueprint to help your organisation manoeuvre through a crisis. It does not have to be a lengthy document, but can incorporate a simple outline that includes:

  • Any risk factors which exist for your NFP

  • Potential members of your Crisis Management Team

  • Methods you will use to communicate.

Consider whether the media will pick it up

Keeping your crisis out of the media spotlight should be the end game. However, crises usually come with many players. You may have disgruntled stakeholders or confused partners who alert the media for you, or in the case of a crisis that involves a social media troll, the media may discover the crisis on their own.

Before the media is even aware, having a media statement or some comments at the ready is always advisable. That way, if the media do come calling, you are prepared. Alternatively, should you find out that a particular journalist has the story, be sure to make contact, and get on the front foot, or at least provide your perspective.

Communicate even when you don’t think you should

Whilst over-communication during business as usual can become annoying to your stakeholders such as staff, volunteers and partners, during a crisis, communication is key. Cast your mind back to the COVID-19 era that included daily press conferences, fact sheets available for download, and above-the-line advertising. The communication was constant, and we all knew every hour, on the hour, what the COVID numbers were, and the new restrictions in place.

Whilst your crisis will not be at pandemic levels, it’s important to decide how and when you will communicate with your stakeholders. Whether it's a weekly update from the CEO to staff, a phone call to key partners every other day, or a Zoom call with volunteers once per fortnight, your stakeholders will have different needs, and your decisions around communication reflect that.

Over-communication during a crisis squashes misperception, ensuring stakeholders are informed. If done well, you can create positive ambassadors who will ensure your network of contacts are kept informed through word of mouth.

Strengthen relationships in peacetime so you have friends during crisis

One thing that becomes abundantly clear during a crisis is that you can’t steer the boat alone. You need strong relationships to support your direction. These connections cannot be built during a crisis — that is for times of calmer waters. Ensure you communicate well with your staff, remain transparent with your partners, and keep in touch with your network of supporters, so when a crisis hits, you can call upon many people for their insights, expertise and help.

There is no doubt that a crisis can cause high stress for your NFP. But, if done right, you can emerge with stronger relationships, more insight into your organisation and some great media contacts for future positive stories.