It is often said that the best way to deal with a crisis is before it happens. Yet far too many nonprofits fail to thoroughly plan for one, despite increasing vulnerability in recent years from the speed of digital communications, the growing prevalence of online "shaming," heightened political division, and increasing pressure from supporters for clarity over where the money goes.

As CEO of Brand Stories Inc., a strategic communications and media agency in New York and Chicago, helping clients plan for any number of potential crises and emergencies and walking them through various scenarios for mitigating and rebounding from them, are not simple to accomplish in caution. The stakes of failing to have a crisis team in place have become too high.

Crises test our resolve, yet most communications failures in our sector and the most famous of them—including the case of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Livestrong, and Wounded Warriors—caught their nonprofit executives deeply off-guard. Only in those first moments and hours of unrelenting exposure did it become clear to executives how much a crisis communications plan and team would have been critical to navigating the storm, rebuilding trust, and saving donors' millions. With a crisis team in place, many risks can be resolved internally or discouraged so they never become full-blown crises.  

We'll talk about how to better plan for crises and create internal teams and structures for navigating them for when they do occur during my live, online training on April 11, Preparing for the Worst — Before (and When) it Happens. A brand today is much more than a logo.  They function as psychological constructs held in the minds of all those aware of the branded mission, person, organization, or movement they are supporting. Because of this, brands need to be far more careful about how they walk the talk and provide transparency and accountability in today's increasingly fraught cultural landscape. At the end of the day, it's all about being aware of where your nonprofit is most vulnerable and to use a combination of scenario planning and internal structures to help burnish and bulletproof your brand and mission in ways you may be missing.

The good news?

What challenges us really can make us stronger—but only if we're willing to re-calibrate our identity, our boards, our communications, and our shared values as organizations to thrive in these times.

Join us as we walk through how to plan for the most common mishaps facing nonprofits today and explore a toolkit for crafting your own crisis communications action plan.

About the Author(s)

Marcia Stepanek Lecturer, Media and Communications Columbia University

Subscribe to our blog

When we publish a new blog post, you’ll get notified by email.

Interested in being a guest writer for our blog? Learn how