Organizations really hate talking about worst case scenarios. And who can blame them? Thinking about an executive dying, a downed website, or an emergency situation is hard, nerve racking, and uncomfortable. But it’s this kind of preparation that is critical in order to be able to manage and communicate during a crisis. This is also the kind of preparation that many non-profits are lacking. Here are some ways to make crisis communications planning a little easier.

Identify the worst that could happen

Ask yourself “what’s the worst that can happen.” In order to start constructing a crisis communications plan you need to think about worst case scenarios. Only by doing this can you structure how you want to respond and communicate while in those situations.

Develop Response Plans A to Z 

Once you’ve identified your top crises, you’ll need to begin developing a response plan for each of them. This means brining in key stake holders from all parts of the organization: marketing and communications can’t do it alone. The specifics of the crises you may encounter and how you will respond to them will differ from organization to organization. However, every crisis response plan should have four stages: monitoring and identification, escalation, response, and recovery.

Monitoring and Identification

In an ideal scenario, someone from your non-profit should consistently monitor both social and traditional media daily for any potential crises. This doesn’t mean that they are constantly on Twitter refreshing the page, but it does mean that that they should have Google alerts set up, and should check your social channels 2-3 times per day. By doing this your non-profit can identify any crises in the making and escalate them in a timely manner in order to respond.


Every crisis should have an escalation plan. This means that you should know who to go to when the crisis arises. During different crises you will need to consult different personnel. That could mean pulling in your VP of communications, or it could mean connecting with the director of a specific program on the ground. Knowing who to escalate a crisis to when it happens means that you can respond faster and more effectively. And when it comes to crises, minutes matter.


Once you have escalated the issue to key stakeholders you have two main options: the first is to respond, and the second is to stay quiet. You may believe that a response is always need, but it’s often the worst thing you can do. Take Papa John’s for example. Their response to a minor crisis actually perpetuated the issue and made the situation significantly worse. When determining whether to respond to a crisis you should ask yourself:

  1. Will the crisis peter out on its own?
  2. Is anyone influential discussing the crisis?
  3. Will you achieve anything other than making yourself or your leadership     feel better?
  4. Will you make the crisis worse?

If you answered “Yes” to questions 1 or 4, or “No” to questions 2 or 3, forgo a response. While that can be incredibly difficult it will benefit you in the long run.

If you do decide to respond to the crises, make sure you are on the same page as your colleagues. This is why escalation is important, it ensure that key stakeholders will be involved in developing a response. In a time of crisis, a unified communications strategy is critical.


You should continue to monitor social and traditional media channels during the crises. By monitoring you can see how your response sits with your audience, or if there is backlash. In doing this you will know whether the crisis has been alleviated, if you need to tweak your response, or if there are any secondary crises that you need to respond to.

While it’s hard to think about crises, not doing so leaves you dangerously exposed when a crisis inevitably hits. If you follow these steps and have a plan for what to do in a crisis you’ll be able to respond faster and more effectively. In doing so you can prevent lasting damage to your organization.