About Anne Hogan

Anne Hogan has a graduate certificate in Nonprofit Management from the University of North Florida.  She worked as the Community Manager for The Humane Society of the United States for more than two years, where she managed a Facebook community of 1.7 million fans and a Twitter following of more than 70,000.  Anne currently works for GigaSavvy as a Social Media Specialist.  She lives in Southern California with her rescued Pomeranian, Teddy, and can be frequently be found tweeting from the beach.

Nonprofit Crisis Management – Plan for the Worst, Hope for the Best

Crisis Management Tips for NonprofitsThere are very few certainties among charities and NGO’s, but one thing that’s just as sure as 990 filings is that at some point, some time, your group will face a crisis.  Perhaps a spokesperson or executive said something ill-advised and it got picked up, or maybe a staffer made a mistake.  These things happen to every group, and it is important to have a swift response.

The most crucial aspect of crisis management should happen long before the crisis hits.  Your group should have a detailed crisis management plan that can be quickly put into place.  These days, crisis situations often come up in social media first, and so this plan should live with your social media and communications team.  You should involve communications, marketing, public relations, email, web, social media, executives, and your legal team in your crisis management plan.  (Of course, with smaller groups, many of those functions may fall to one person.)  Decide what your plan of action will be, and answer the following questions:

  1. Where will the first response come from?  A press release, web story, social media?
  2. Who needs to approve talking points and communications?  Set up a review process that is as streamlined and efficient as possible.
  3. How will we communicate internally during a crisis?  Email, phone, in-person meetings, etc.
  4. Who will be responsible for responding to stakeholders?  Especially in smaller groups where one person functions as social media, public relations, and webmaster, make sure to divvy up the work so that this person isn’t overwhelmed.  Decide who will respond on social media, to media requests, and to emails.  If there are enough staff members, try to divide up time so that each person gets a break.

In a larger group, your next step should be to set up a crisis email list that includes all of the relevant people, and also gather all of their cell and home phone numbers.  A crisis doesn’t care that it’s 3:00 p.m. on a Saturday.

Once you have a basic plan in place, run through a few hypothetical situations.  What would we do if…?  How would we respond if….?  These examples will depend on the type of group you have, but your communications team and executives will know what your weaknesses and threats are, and what things are most likely to come up in a crisis.  It’s also helpful to know which other people from your group would need to be pulled in for various situations.  For example, if there’s an issue with a volunteer, you would need your volunteer coordinator involved in your crisis plan.

So you have a plan, you’ve practiced, and you’ve put it out of your mind as you continue your hectic daily work.  Until… crisis.  You see the first angry comments start to trickle in on your Facebook page.  Then there are a few tweets asking about the situation and demanding answers.

Don’t panic.

Stay calm and put your plan into place.  Get answers internally, and get your initial statement ready.  The most important thing to remember is to remain calm and try to emotionally detach yourself from the situation.  If you respond emotionally, you will only add fuel to the fire; stay professional always.  In general, your response should take on three stages:  acknowledge, rectify, move on.

Acknowledge:  We understand that some of our supporters are upset by recent comments….

Rectify:  We hear your concerns and will be incorporating your feedback into our program….

Move On:  Continue with your usual schedule.  You don’t want to dwell on the negative, and by doing so you’re only letting more people know about the issue.  Keep answering questions/concerns/comments that come in, but move on.

In the midst of a crisis, it can feel like it will go on forever.  But take heart, this too shall pass.  And once it does, the work isn’t over.

When things have quieted down and returned to normal, it’s time to do some analyzing.  Here are some questions that can help you gauge your crisis response and improve it for the next time:

  1. Did we follow our crisis management plan?
  2. If not, where did we stray from the plan and why?
  3. What happened that we didn’t plan/account for?
  4. How can we work those unexpected things into our plan?
  5. How did our stakeholders respond to our statement(s)?
  6. Were there certain statements that people responded more positively to?  What did they have in common, and how can we craft future statements to more closely resemble those?
  7. What themes did we see in people’s complaints?
  8. How many comments/questions/complaints did we see across all channels?  (Web, email, phone, Facebook, Twitter, etc)

These steps should help you successfully manage a crisis and live to tell the tale.


Strategic Planning for Nonprofits

Strategic Planning NonprofitsWhen you think of “strategic planning”, what comes to mind?  Expensive consultants?  Multi-day retreats?  Dusty binders full of plans, sitting on shelves forgotten and untouched?  Well it’s time to rethink strategic planning.  A strategic plan can help your nonprofit move forward, achieve goals, make important decisions, and make the best use of limited funds.  Once you clearly define where you want to go and how you want to get there, day-to-day decision making becomes easier and you can get a better idea of how to allocate funds.  So get to it!

Depending on the size of your group, a strategic plan can actually be a fairly simple process.  The most important thing is to create a plan that will be used, because if it sits on the shelf you’re just wasting time.  Follow these steps for a “quick and dirty” version of strategic planning that will get your group headed in the right direction.

  1. Gather the key players.  This can be as large or small a group as you feel necessary, but it should include the following:  President/CEO, board chair, CFO, COO, head of PR/marketing, volunteer coordinator, head of philanthropy, and any other assorted C-O’s you may have.
  2. Set aside a distraction-free time.  While you don’t need a three day retreat, you do need to focus.  I would suggest holding your meeting off-site to cut down on distractions – libraries often offer free or very low cost meeting rooms.  Make everyone check their electronics at the door and get down to brass tacks.
  3. Define your mission, vision, and values.  If you already have these, great!  If not, get to work.  Your mission should be one sentence that describes what you do.  Your vision should be your ultimate goal; what does your ideal community look like after you’ve worked yourself out of a job?  Your values should be the core values and beliefs that guide your organization.
  4. Decide where you want to go, and be realistic about these expectations.  Where do you want your group to be in five years?  What do you want to look like?  What programs do you want to be offering?  What changes do you want to see?  Get as specific as you can, and try to drill down to one concise paragraph.
  5. Now you have Point A (where you are now) and Point B (where you want to be).  How do you connect the two?  As a group, come up with the steps that you need to take to get to Point B, being as specific as possible.
  6. What do you need to make those steps happen?  Do you need more funding?  More volunteers?  A new space?  Make a list of all the things you need.
  7. How are you going to get those things?  This step is where you should really let your creativity shine.  Come up with new and innovative ways to reach your goals, whether by diversifying your revenue stream or starting new volunteer outreach efforts.
  8. Assign accountability.  Decide who will be responsible for each of the action items and set regular meetings to check in on progress.  These meetings can be once a quarter or once a week, but make sure that you make them a priority – no skipping!
  9. Use the plan!  Now that you’ve done the work, you have to live by the plan.  Hang goals in your office where you will see them every day, and be sure to refer back to the plan at every meeting.  It can be easy to veer off track, and having your plan as a touchstone will help to keep you on the right track.  When considering a new program or campaign, always refer back to your strategic plan.  Will this new initiative move you closer to your goals, or will it take you down a different path?  With tight budgets you can’t afford to say “yes” to everything, so make sure you’re picking and choosing the best opportunities to meet your goals.
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