This is a defining time for so many non-profits; and the reality is that some will not survive it. While there are no easy answers, here are some basic communication tips to keep your organization and your employees focused in the days ahead.
1. Stay consistent with your mission. This is actually an opportunity to reinforce your mission and values with your internal and external stakeholders. Are there things you can do to help based on the skills and resources unique to you? If you are a food bank, can you partner with restaurants who need to get rid of food inventory to expand the number of people in need that you are serving? Review your communication to be sure your key messages are consistent with your mission. Taking on new out-of-mission programs and services will just confuse your key audiences and could potentially damage the goodwill and trust you have built over time.
2. Pay special attention to the tone and content of communication. Examine your social media, newsletters, emails and website content to make sure it is relevant to today’s environment. You don’t want to try to be the CDC or the World Health Organization reporting on COVID19 developments – but you do want stakeholders to realize you’re aware of the Coronavirus and the potential impact on employees and the external stakeholder groups you serve. If someone goes to your website for the first time, will that be obvious to them? Pull down pre-programed content that does not apply. Be thoughtful and honest in what you say – and convey hope with instruction on behaviors stakeholders can execute. Give them something they CAN do in a world where there is so much they currently cannot do.
3. Show empathy. Millions have lost their jobs, businesses, healthcare and security. Acknowledge the impact and show you understand that life is difficult for many right now. Encourage supporters to continue giving to your organization if they can; point out ways they can help even if they are not in a position to give donations at this time.
4. Be a leader, not a victim. This is a time to articulate the vision for your organization and talk about strategies for navigating the barriers ahead instead of whining about everything that has not gone well. Express confidence that you will get through this and show that you have the leadership in place to figure out a way to continue delivering on your mission.
5. Encourage feedback/invite participation. People are tired of hearing all the negative news right now – why not challenge them to come up with helpful ideas that will benefit those you serve as you move forward? We all need something positive and proactive to do—and who knows -- they may just come up with an innovative solution to a problem you are facing. Listening and acting on feedback is an important piece of good communication.