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Before a Crisis – Look Inside…

Guest Post: Dan Cohen, Full Court Press Communications.

I was recently on a series of panels for grantmakers and grantees. Among the topics were Funding Progressive Groups: Managing the Risk and Advocacy in the Digital Age. The conversations were part of a series of sessions presented by the Alliance for Justice.

The stated focus of the sessions was on what to do when the bright lights of the media, the social media, the public, political opponents, and even government are upon you or your grantees. However, at each session there was an appetite to discuss how to prepare an organization internally before these crises arise.

Focusing first internally allows you to develop a plan and to prepare your internal audience. After all, its your leaders, boards, and key grantees that will serve as your ambassadors during a crisis…and they need tools and direction.

You can help them in four straightforward ways.

First, name the risks. In doing so, you will build the tolerance of your Board and Organization. By identifying the obvious and non-obvious risks, you will help individuals on your team realize that the uncertainty or unease they feel may be unfounded. Name the things that you fear. Then set out to plan for them.

Second, know your capacity. It will help your Board and leadership to understand that they already have the communications and operations capacity to address the issues that arise. You are part of this network for a reason. You provide communications counsel and capacity. You are a resource, and likely a well-trained one. Make sure your leaders know that you are here and stand ready for anything. That way, when they need you most, you both are ready to get to work.

Third, make a plan. On a napkin, on a google doc, or even in a formal 50 page plan. Write it down. When you match your capacity against the risks you have identified, you can then set forth to take the necessary steps to control prepare your team internally and manage the message externally. With a plan in place, your Board and executive team may feel more prepared to speak out during a situation which in the past they may have avoided – and provide credibility or a voice of reason during a media firestorm. If you build internal knowledge and capacity, then you are building confident, informed and engaged messengers.

Finally, by informing your internal stakeholders on potential risks, you help create a culture of transparency. You will win when you are absolutely unafraid to see your grantees, your funding areas and even your biggest challenges brought to wider attention. There is nothing to fear from public scrutiny if you are prepared and ready to turn the visibility into an opportunity for broader buy-in. A culture of transparency has an added benefit of giving you the opportunity to address an issue before it balloons to become even larger and more problematic.

A friend of ours, Ana-Marie Jones, is a prophet of “Fear Free Communications.” Her philosophy is to always assume a forward-leaning, positive framework in every external communication. In doing so, you promote buy-in and engagement. We would encourage that your internal conversations and crisis communications planning reflect that philosophy to help ensure better outcomes from real and perceived crises.

So for your Spring Cleaning exercise…

  • Start by broaching one uncomfortable subject with your internal stakeholders.
  • Ask them to “pose the question they fear they might get asked”
  • Write it down and begin to consider you think could happen and match that against the resources you already have (People, tools, & allies).
  • Share this mini-plan for one crisis scenario in an open and transparent way with your internal team & key stakeholders.
  • Rinse, lather, repeat.

That’s our list.  What’s on yours?

Dan Cohen is the Principal and Founder of Full Court Press Communications.


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