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Blog > The 10 Steps of Crisis Communications: Be Proactive!

The 10 Steps of Crisis Communications: Be Proactive!

posted on Nov 3, 2017

by Maria Lahiffe

United Airlines, Uber and Dove have recently provided viral examples of public relations crises. Not-for-profits can also find themselves in hot water with funders, volunteers and staff. An unexplained client death, food poisoning outbreak or sticky fingered treasurer will quickly land a non-for-profit under public scrutiny.

If you don’t prepare, then you will incur more damage, having to devote ever-more resources to fixing your reputation, rather than serving your stakeholders. The good news is, if you DO prepare ahead of time, you can turn a crisis around and maybe even use it to improve your public image. Most of these steps can, and should, be done proactively, before any crisis appears on the horizon. [1]

This post will deal with the steps you can complete in advance of a crisis, to be ready if it hits you sideways on an otherwise peaceful Tuesday afternoon.

Step 1: Anticipate crises

Understand your own organization and its external environment. A good way to do this is to conduct a SWOT analysis. Gather information from people in every function in your organization, including all levels of management, front-line staff, volunteers, maybe even some trusted clients.

SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. The greatest danger to your organization comes from the intersection of (organizational) weaknesses and (external) threats.

Step 2: Identify your crisis communications team

In the event of a crisis, you will need to swing into action immediately. You should know ahead of time, who will take responsibility for handling communications if this happens. Your team should include

  • the most senior manager (ED or CEO),
  • a communications expert from your board,
  • a legal expert from your board,
  • your communications manager, and
  • people with special knowledge related to the current crisis.

Step 3: Identify spokespersons

Make sure you have in place the right policies and training to make sure that only authorized spokespersons speak for you. This is always important, but especially so in a crisis. The right people in a crisis will have

  • the right skills: able to handle media interviews and handle, or know to delegate, social media communications
  • the right position: you need a very good reason not to use the most senior manager in your organization

Step 4: Train spokespersons

People need training to be skilled spokespersons, such as VO’s Working with the Media workshop. Talking to the media, especially under fire, is its own skill. Being articulate and persuasive in your general work life is a prerequisite, but not sufficient.

Step 5: Establish notification and monitoring systems

People can be reached by lots of different ways: phone, text, social media, email (often multiple numbers, platforms, and email addresses). Establish ahead of time what is the best way to contact your stakeholders in the event of a crisis. The objective is to get the word out as quickly as possible, within your network.

You also need to establish, ahead of time, ways to monitor what is being said about your organization. Examples include Google Alerts and Hootsuite, as well as front-line personnel. Make sure everyone who deals with the public is well-trained on what to say and what information to convey to the Communications team.

Step 6: Identify Stakeholders

Whether you like it or not, every one of your stakeholders has the potential to talk about your organization, which means they have the power to inflate or deflate a crisis, depending on what they say. Know who your stakeholders are and include them in your notification system, above.

Step 7: Develop Holding Statements

You will need to develop issue-specific communication if and when a crisis hits. However, you can prepare general statements in advance, based on the risks you identified in Step 1, above. Examples may include: [1]

  • “We have implemented our crisis response plan, which places the highest priority on the health and safety of our patients and staff.”
  • “Our thoughts are with those who were in harm’s way, and we hope that they are well.”
  • “We will be posting additional information to our website when it is available.”

These holding statements should be reviewed regularly to make sure they are still relevant.

Want to learn more? Come to an upcoming workshop.

Click here for more information, and to register.


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[1] J. Bernstein, "The 10 Steps of Crisis Communications," Bernstein Crisis Management, 2016. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 3 November 2017]. [2] Strengthening Non-Profits, "Managing Crisis," Strengthening Non-Profits, [Online]. Available: [Accessed 3 November 2017].
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