No one likes a crisis. Especially nonprofit leaders like you.
With life already overly busy, increased demand for your services, a constant push to increase funding and more ideas being suggested than you can possibly implement, when do you have time for a crisis? Never.
Alas, that’s the nature of crisis. Things happen when they happen, and usually when you’re least expecting it. So what do you do? Push the worry away and deal with problems if and when they happen? No, instead, you should plan. Here’s a high-level view to get you started.

#1 – Accept that bad things will happen.

Ok, this doesn’t mean you make a plan to ensure they happen. This means, as a nonprofit leader, you should be realistic and accept that they WILL happen. Fire, flood, improper use of funds by an employee, an accusation of impropriety? Crisis takes all kinds of forms.

#2 – Own the problem.

When something DOES happen – whether it be a natural disaster or something caused by human action, don’t ignore it. As the leader, step up. Be transparent. And make it clear you will do your best to steer the organization through the problem – in the sunlight, not the shadow.

#3 – Tell the Story Yourself.

Make sure that it’s you – the official spokesperson for the organization – who takes the story public, not a third party. Contact the press. Be transparent. Share all that you can while maintaining whatever confidentiality is required. Be open. Be honest. And if you don’t know, say you don’t know but that you’ll keep the lines of communication open.

#4 – Keep the Team Updated. Ensure the core team of people – and the rest of your employees – know as much as it’s appropriate for them to know about how the crisis is being handled. A little information goes a long way. The absence of information often leads people to fill the void, relying on conjecture instead of fact to figure out what’s up.

#5 – Learn as You Go. As you develop and follow your plan for handling the crisis, document everything and keep notes about what worked and what didn’t. As soon as the waters are calm again, these notes will help you craft a better, stronger plan for next time. Although you didn’t welcome the crisis in the first place, you WILL learn from it. It WILL make you stronger.

A final note — As the months pass and you gain a little distance from whatever the problem was, consider sharing the story with others in your community. Perhaps other nonprofits like yours would benefit from what you learned. Is there a conference where you might present lessons learned and tips for others? In the end, enduring a crisis well can actually put you in an even stronger leadership position.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel Hutchisson is the vice president of corporate citizenship and philanthropy at Blackbaud, headquartered in Charleston, SC.  She is responsible for the company’s global corporate citizenship efforts, a role that allows her to leverage her 20+ years of experience of working with nonprofit partners.  She is a member of the board of directors for the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) International, the Giving Institute (producers of Giving USA), and the Coastal Community Foundation.  She is also a Past President of the AFP SC Lowcountry chapter. Rachel is a graduate of Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA, and received a master’s degree from the University of Missouri School of Journalism.  A member of Phi Beta Kappa, she is a Renaissance Weekend participant and was the recipient of the Charleston Regional Business Journal’s Influential Women in Business Rising Star Award.  Rachel is an avid soccer fan and spends far too much time driving to remote parts of the state to watch her children play.  Connect with Rachel on Twitter at @RachelHutchssn or on LinkedIn.

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