How Your Nonprofit Can Make Meaning Out Of Tough Moments

The world we live in today seems to have become more harsh and difficult to understand as we deal with what feels like constant national tragedies, jarring headlines about local violence, and relentless uncivil political discourse. Now more than ever, we need to be reminded to remain present, motivated to act, and hopeful for change during these tough moments. There are no stronger voices to lead that reminder, than mission-based organizations who deeply understand the societal or cultural tensions that drive division and what means are necessary to repair them.

As headlines and tweets race across their screens, your followers (and potential new audiences!) will be processing, looking for more information, and ways to give or act. Make sure your organization’s voice is one that they hear loud and clear.

Here are some tips to prepare your organization to respond to crisis situations and current events.


Define Your Message:

Start by outlining what your non-profit can say and cannot say regarding the topic you have chosen. Some questions to consider: Are there topics you will always address and ones you should not? Where does your expertise lie? Do you need to wait for the event to unfold further to prepare a response? What actions does your organization have that could provide audiences with the right outlet? When must you always speak up?

Create a messaging and imagery guide for tone and style on the topic. You want to make sure what you’re saying is consistent with what you have said in the past, and what you might say in the future. Imagery should also have a consistent look and feel, standing out from your evergreen content. Here are some tips for finding the right narrative angle from our VP, Brand + Creative, who notes in some instances, “Nonprofits have a better chance of inspiring engagement, donations, and advocacy by telling stories about individuals—not just issues as a whole.”

Link an action to your message. Do you have local events, giving opportunities, or resources that your audience can get started with? To help with this, seek out conversations on social media or study trending hashtags to find out what others are saying or doing to see what action might be best.

Lastly, don’t just say something to say something, make sure it has meaning.


Pick Your Spokesperson:

It’s imperative to pick the right individual or group to deliver your message. Depending on the topic, your message might feel more personable or powerful coming from a human-being rather than an organization as a whole.

For some organizations, your President or CEO might be the most powerful voice you have. Here are two examples of blogs written by our clients, Facing History and Ourselves and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

For others, you might have a program team member who is a content expert or someone who is most comfortable sharing their opinions on a topic. Seek out those individuals and prepare them for activation. Whoever your spokesperson is, make sure they are comfortable and have adequate training for handling the role.


Design The Plan:

Once you have messaging guidelines in place, it’s time to think about the best way to get your message out. Start by analyzing your existing digital channels, making sure to prioritize the ones where you feel you’re reaching the right audience with the right message. For example, Twitter is definitely a go-to for timely, news-worthy messages, but if you don’t have a large following, you might want to pair it with a Facebook post to expand reach.

Be sure to think outside of social. Some questions to consider: Does your organization have a blog where long-form content can live? Should there be a dedicated landing page on your website to house response content and related actions? Does your response warrant an email?

Does your organization have the ability to create video or short gif?

Don’t be afraid to think of outside-of-the-box. If your digital channels aren’t matching the impact you envision your message having then you might consider trying something new. Here are some potential ideas:

  • Reach out to local or national news outlets to see if your spokesperson could be interviewed for a story on their site.
  • Consider a Facebook fundraiser (see our blog on $20 Million From One Facebook Fundraiser for ideas) or a Facebook group.
  • Partner with another like-minded organization to combine voices for greater reach.

Before you press go, make sure you have tracking in place! Set up custom UTM parameters so you can track visits to your website or onsite engagement from social media content. If you have content tagging or tracking capabilities through platforms like HubSpot or Sprout Social, make sure there is a plan for that as well. Here are some guidelines for setting up conversion tracking in Google Analytics if you have a specific action tied to your message.


Nail The Delivery:

While the steps above might take some time to get it right, it’s imperative that you don’t wait a week to respond. Make sure you’re timely in your delivery. It will make all the difference.

More importantly, once your message has gone out, remain vigilant and responsive. Monitor feedback from your audiences and engage with them one-on-one. As the news cycle moves on, make sure to evaluate how your message was received or what impact it drove. Find the actionable learnings that will help shape how you respond the next time.

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