Hopefully most nonprofits will never face the sort of devastating public confidence breakdown that JetBlue has recently suffered in the commercial world.
Still, **** happens.
Someone up in the executive suite, down in accounting, or out in the field embezzles some money (e.g., the Red Cross). The media claims, fairly or otherwise, that services are not being delivered or funds are not being spent in the manner promised to donors and the public (e.g., Habitat for Humanity). Or internal dissension within an organization boils over into public view (e.g., ACLU).
How does an organization respond?
In our view …
1. With alacrity
2. From the top leadership
3. With humble firmness, not aggressiveness or defensiveness
4. With total candor and transparency
5. With all communications channels through which your constituency engages your organization.
6. With redress, not just words
And if the breakdown, mis-step or grievance is for real …
4. With explicit, decisive corrective measures
5. With genuine apology (and, where relevant, generous compensation).
Note that we don't use the term “crisis communications” … this term implies that an organization can “talk” or “explain” its way out of trouble. How you communicate can indeed be crucial to successful crisis management. But truly resolving the crisis requires facing up to and addressing the underlying problem that underlies the crisis. No amount of talk can remedy a failure to act. But the wrong kind of talk can certainly compound the injury.
Here is a potpourri of articles with advice on crisis management. All this free advice was offered specifically to JetBlue, but the principles are universally applicable.
Jet Blues – How NOT to Do Crisis Communications, from Nancy Schwartz at Getting Attention
Ten Steps to Recovery for 'Jet Black and Blue', from Jeanne Bliss of CustomerBLISS
Jet Blue's Blues, from Elaine Fogel of Solutions Marketing & Consulting