Nonprofits Communicating in Crisis: Highlights from our Recent Webinar

In light of the rapidly evolving COVID-19 crisis, nonprofits, school systems, and companies across the country are being called upon to provide unprecedented support to their communities, transitioning to embrace innovative service-delivery approaches that protect public health, and making enormously consequential decisions about the future. At every step in the process of responding to the COVID-19 crisis – and beginning to think about how we come together to help our communities recover and become more resilient – clear, consistent communication is essential.

Recently, America Forward was joined by our partners from 90 West for a webinar titled “Effective Organizational Communication During The COVID-19 Crisis,” with the goal of providing members of the America Forward coalition and our partners across the social sector a usable framework to guide internal and external communications efforts in the context of the current crisis.

As organizations of all sizes work (with staff capacity already stretched to the limit) to communicate with multiple audiences about their response to the crisis, several key pillars can help frame their communications efforts:

  • Trust and credibility are precious: hard to build but easy to lose. Building trust and credibility with your audiences starts with clear, accurate communication that is measured and empathetic in tone.\
  • Ensure consistency in timing and context across channels. In crisis situations, consistency and predictability are essential. When communicating with multiple audiences using several different channels (email, social, blog, etc.), it’s critically important that organizations maintain consistency in the information and guidance the are sharing, and that they create clear expectations for when and how they will be communicating.
  • Communications should start centrally organized with authorized voices and protocols for sign off and release. Ensuring that communications materials are clear, accurate, and consistent requires established processes for circulating materials – to relevant internal and external stakeholders – and acquiring sign-off from authorized individuals.
  • Create channels for feedback and take responsibility. Developing clear opportunities for staff, families, and other stakeholders to provide feedback and express concern helps develop trust, and taking ownership of constructive criticism or mistakes that inevitably happen is key to building credibility.
  • Be planning continually. Planning for possible scenarios – in both the short- and long-term – and developing relevant protocols and materials can help minimize confusion both internally and externally when and if those scenarios arise.

While sharing information and communicating the day-to-day response to the crisis remains the first priority for organizations, they should also start thinking about what role they hope to play in shaping the long-term response to the crisis. Strategic, intentional communications can help organizations meaningfully advance key messages and policy priorities that will shape our communities once the immediate public health and economic crisis subsides.

As organizations navigate how to advance key communications and advocacy priorities in the medium- to long-term – in a way that is both relevant and empathetic – many of the same concepts critical to effective crisis communications remain applicable:

  • Context and empathy remain key. Policy and advocacy communications in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic should take into account the pain and uncertainty felt by large swaths of the population, and aim answer the question “how is this idea relevant to recovering from the crisis and/or making our systems and communities more resilient.” In addition, centering the experiences of real people during and after the crisis helps make policy and advocacy messaging more resonant.
  • Trust and credibility are still essential. As organizations pivot to a more intentional focus on advancing long-term policy and advocacy goals, maintaining trust and credibility established during the response to the crisis is critical, so organizations should leverage trustworthy spokespeople and remain focused on ensuring the clarity and consistency of their advocacy efforts.
  • Continue forward-looking planning. Organizations should continue scenario planning even once the immediate crisis phase has passed, including thinking about what audiences are critical to reach, what channels will be effective to reach them, and what messages/collateral will be particularly meaningful and important to each audience.

Those interested in watching the full presentation – “America Forward Briefing: Effective Organizational Communication During The COVID-19 Crisis” – can find a recording here:






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