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Some days - nay, most days - nonprofit professionals have to focus all their means just to keep up on the matters at hand. Too often it feels luxurious to spend time planning for the future and thinking about scenarios that may or may not happen. Unfortunately, this places far too many organizations in the perilous realm of being completely unprepared should a crisis occur - whether through fault or mere circumstance. The consequences of such unpreparedness can be disastrous to an organization's reputation, branding and fund development efforts.

One of the most important tools in an organization's PR arsenal is a crisis management plan. Admittedly, creating such a plan takes a bit of time and work, and this is why it is why so few organizations have one. It is also why it is so important to have one in place before a crisis happens. In the midst of a PR firestorm, time and freedom to plan are no longer at your leisure.

I wish I were just speaking from theoretical knowledge, and not from practical experience. During my 20 or so years in the nonprofit and faith-based communications fields, I have had to manage media coverage resulting from sex scandals, bomb threats, violence on organization property, and even the carjacking of a staffer on program business. It is my least favorite part of PR and marketing. It is stressful. It is unpredictable. It can instantly turn a normal day into weeks worth of headaches. However, from this experience I have learned the value of planning and preparing for crisis scenarios so that negative publicity is minimized, information control is maximized, and opportunity for gaining positive coverage is capitalized.

The How To

The best crisis management plan is the most practical one. I am not an advocate of 3-inch-thick plans. Rather, I believe that the best and most useful plans simply identify key contacts, clarify resounding message points, allow for the flexibility of the situation, compile static organization information, and emphasize proactive involvement in managing the crisis.

Global PR Blogweek offers seven elements your crisis management plan should include:

1. Identify the members of your crisis management team.
2. Identify a spokesperson and make sure that each member of the crisis management team has key contact info.
3. Prepare fact sheets on your organization that can quickly be duplicated.
4. Prepare biographies on key staff.
5. Have copies of your press release format, logos and key signatures on file.
6. Think through crisis scenarios and develop pre-written statements that could serve as a foundation for a first response.
7. Compile contact information for your media contacts.

In the thick of a crisis situation, ensure that the members of your crisis management team - especially the spokesperson - have all pertinent information related to situation. If necessary, clear key talking points with your lawyers, but don't let the lawyers dictate the message. "No comment" protects their interests, but is the worst statement you can make for the sake of your organization's reputation and credibility. A statement ensuring that you're looking into the matter, taking it seriously and seeking a positive resolution is far better and equally vague.

In addition, I would recommend that when choosing your media spokesperson, you ensure that person has been properly trained in speaking with the media. Although executive directors are typically the first choice for the organization's spokesperson, not everyone is suited for on-camera interviews. If your executive is uncomfortable in this role, you should select another point of contact. Board chairs are often refined communicators and can be a great resource in this area. Your spokesperson must articulate well, be quick on their feet and able to discern what to say (or what not to say) with little notice, and have an air of authority and confidence. You can prepare a strong statement or concise key talking point, but if that statement is delivered by someone whose eyes dodge out of nervousness or who gets flustered easily, the 5-6-10 newscast viewer will read into that behavior guilt or conspiracy.

Planning = Power

Of course, my hope is that your organization is so well oiled that a crisis never occurs. May all your work sites be so safe that an accident never occurs. May all your staff be so filled with integrity that a lapse of judgment never jeopardizes credibility. May all your clients be so grateful for the services they have received or so understanding about the services they are unable to receive that they are more willing to sing your praises than criticize your decisions. May you so convincingly make your donor appeals that you never find yourself cutting programs or lacking funds or facing closure. And, may every person who walks through your door come bearing notes of thanks or checks of support rather than weapons, anger or lawsuits.

However, should you find yourself in a situation where the media is unexpectedly knocking on your door, a prepared plan of action gives you a better chance to turn a possibly negative situation into an opportunity to share your message and gain support.

- J.A.
* All Rights Reserved.

Adapted from Jennifer Anthony's original article, "A Few Words on Crisis Management," published online in 2005.


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Nonprofit organizations are particularly good at (or bad at) stating more than really needs to be said. Perhaps it is a side effect of trying to survive in a grantmaking environment where overcommunicating is more than the norm - it's the expectation. Grant applications ask tough (if not unreasonable) questions, and nonprofit professionals find themselves wordsmithing their way into a proposal that talks of sustainability and outcome measures on services and programs that are intrinsically unmeasurable and fundamentally unsustainable. But, beware that your tendency to overstate and expand upon doesn't carry over into your external marketing activities.

I recently saw an ad for a nonprofit organization that read like a book report. It was 5.5 x 8.5 with no images or design elements, and was laden with text. Even the text was boring. It talked about the organization's early beginnings, about its capital campaign 30 years ago, and boasted a valuable staff. The first thought I had after seeing the ad wasn't about how strong of a history the organization had or admiration of its fiscal responsibility. The first thought I had was simply, "Who cares?" That thought was quickly followed by, "They actually paid to print that?"

When engaging in marketing activities that are aimed at informing and motivating donors to contribute, potential clients to call, or volunteers to get involved, nonprofit organizations need to exercise a certain amount of simple communication.

Think. What is worth highlighting? What fact or tidbit is interesting to Joe Community Member, and how can you craft it in such a way within your marketing piece that it is interesting, eye-catching and valuable? Here are five strategies for making your communications clear and your marketing pieces worth reading:

1. Address the "Who Cares?" Factor

When working with your text, ask yourself whether the facts and information you are incorporating into your ad copy or press release is interesting and relevant to someone outside of your organization. You have a small window of opportunity to catch the eye of the peruser. Don't waste that opportunity explaining the origins of your organization or the details of your strategic plan. Captialize on that moment with what matters most: who are you, what do you want them to know, and how can they get involved?

2. Stop the Grant-Speak

Nonprofits tend to have their own set of vocabulary, words like "outcome," "donor," "invest," "impact" and "sustainability." Avoid grant-speak in your advertising. Instead of asking someone to "Become a donor today and impact the lives of underprivileged children," you could say "Give today and impact the lives of tomorrow." Speak their language and you will have a better chance of being heard.

3. Keep it Brief

More than ever before, the consumer's attention is divided. We are multi-tasking media consumers. Your television ad fights the remote every time it comes on, your web ad runs against the quick search toolbar every time it rotates, your print ad gets buried on page 11 next to three others. It's more important now than ever before to keep your message concise and to craft brief - yet strong - highlights and points.

4. A Matter of the Heart

The most effective way to touch a person with the value of involvement with your organization is through emotional response. People give based on emotional stimulation. Emotional involvement is what drives passion and commitment. Emotional messages capture the attention, and when someone's attention is captured they are sure to tell someone else. Use quotes from a client who has been helped by your organization. Tell their story and let them do the selling.

5. A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

In the end, the most cleverly crafted tagline or message will be overshadowed by a moving or shocking photo. You want to capture their attention? Do it visually. Your images will get them to stop, then your text can follow-up with the information you need to communicate. Be aware of the importance design plays in any marketing piece you put out.

Your marketing pieces need you to focus on fresh ways of communicating your organization's impact, importance and opportunity for involvement. The first step is to simplify the way you communicate to your audience.

- J.A.
* All Rights Reserved.


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You've heard the saying, but how much truth is in the old cliche "think outside the box"? Sometimes getting back to the basics is the best move you can make when it comes to marketing nonprofit organizations and promoting their mission. Revisiting older ideas and tried and true marketing practices can provide a sense of clarity that is vital to fresh creativity. Sometimes you first need to think inside the box.

Back to the Basics

You've heard the 4 P's of marketing: product, place, price and promotion. How do those apply to the nonprofit community when their product is intangible, their place is often undefined, their price is indeterminable, and promotion is approached cautiously out of fear of an image that donor dollars are not well spent? Here are some suggestions.

1. PRODUCT - The product of nonprofit organizations are not the services that they offer the community. The product of non-profit organizations is impact. What impact are you making in the lives of your clients? What change is occuring in the community as a result of your efforts? How is your organization's mission meeting needs, transforming lives and contributing to the greater good? Your product is impact and change - focus your marketing messages on that, particularly when trying to reach potential donors.

2. PLACE - In merchandising marketing, place refers to placement of products for optimum sales. In nonprofit marketing where the product is impact and change, we define place as the area in which you concentrate your marketing messages. Let's say, for example, you are a small organization in Kansas City, Kansas. Your services and programs are primarily geared toward Wyandotte County residents. When considering how and where to place your messages, focus your resources on local media, not city-wide or regional outlets. Reach the people whose community you directly serve.

3. PRICE - What price can you put on helping a homeless person achieve self-sustainability, or what price can be assigned to the impact of a tutoring program in an inner-city school? Your target market is likely to be potential donors. The product you offer them is an improved community. Where are you offering that? In their neighborhood. Your third task is to convince them that your organization is worth investing in - at whatever level they are able to give.

4. PROMOTION - You may have a great organization and outstanding programs, but how do you share that with potential donors? You share that through promotion. Nonprofit organizations have limited budgets, and those limited budgets rarely account for marketing, public relations and promotions. Our goal is to help you see the importance of marketing and public relations, and recognize that a little investment can go a long way. In fact, promotion doesn't always have to be costly - it may take the form of a press release or an announcement to your local community bulletin board. The important thing is that you consider ways to actively promote your organization.

Get Comfortable Inside the Box Before Stepping Out

The challenge that too many organizations face is that they try and think "outside of the box" before making sure they know what is inside of the box. Or in other words, make sure that your creative, fresh, unique marketing idea is a solid one before investing time, creativity and money into it.

For example, a staff member at ABC Organization decides that an advertising campaign in the city's Hispanic newspaper will help spread the word about their mission in the Spanish-speaking community. "This will certainly get our message out, and reach a new audience" she reasons. She comes up with a great ad campaign theme, has the ad designed using Spanish, and spends hundreds of dollars on running the ads. Unfortunately, there is little return on that time and financial investment because her marketing theory and promotional plan was flawed.

A.) She didn't know her target market. You see, ABC Organization doesn't have any Spanish-speaking staff, and therefore can't accomodate any requests or interests from that community. Even if a Spanish-speaking individual sees the ad and is interested in supporting the organization, no one is available to speak with them when they call for more information.

B.) She didn't communicate her message effectively. What she wanted was to introduce the organization to the Hispanic community and hopefully find new donors. Unfortuantely, all her ad did was describe the organization's programs. There was no explanation of the organization's impact. There were no quotes from Hispanic individuals who had received services from the organization. Her message missed the mark.

C.) She didn't focus her message on the community her organization serves. She advertised in a city-wide Hispanic newspaper whose circulation in her local community was a fraction of those she could have reached had she advertised with the local Hispanic paper.

How to Avoid the Pitfalls

There are three things that can help you avoid the pitfalls of ineffective marketing:

1. Plan, plan, plan. Develop a strategic marketing plan. This will help you know whom you are trying to reach, what message you will convey when you reach them, and how much money you will need to set aside to embark on that effort.

2. Craft, craft, craft. Craft your message and wrap it in a way that is appealing and that stands out. Craft your marketing effort with creativity while keeping in the forefront of your mind who you are trying to reach and what you want them to do once you reach them.

3. Evaluate, evaluate, evaluate. Establish some way for you to evaluate how well your marketing efforts worked. This will help you know whether a marketing effort was successful, and whether your investment in that effort was worth the return.

Creativity and innovative thinking is vital to the long-term sustainability of any marketing or public relations campaign; but, before embarking on that next great idea, make sure that your footing is placed firmly on tried and true marketing techniques.

- J.A.
* All Rights Reserved.

 

 
 
 

Jennifer Anthony Consulting, LLC
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