Tips for creating a crisis communication plan for an NGO

  May 21, 2020

A crisis communication plan is a written document containing recommendations for how your NGO would respond to an emergency or unexpected event. It contains the steps your business will take when a crisis emerges and how all relevant stakeholders will be informed.

Crisis communication is only one element of crisis management, but it is essential when it comes to NGO reputational management. It covers the business response to an unexpected situation. When followed correctly, the plan should ensure relevant information reaches all stakeholders within the business, including employees, media, the public and anyone else who needs to be informed. Having an agreed process means the message is appropriate and consistent and minimises the chance of error or misinformation. 

Keep it succinct

Ideally everyone should be familiar with the plan in advance of a difficult situation occurring but if someone needs guidance in an emergency, they should be able to find what they are looking for quickly. Do all that you can to make the crisis communication plan document easy to read:

  • have a hyperlinked table of contents
  • have emergency contacts clearly visible
  • use headings and subheadings
  • use tables and bullet points to make it easier to find information
  • make it available electronically


Identify relevant stakeholders

One of the first things an NGO’s crisis communication plan should contain is:

  • A list of main stakeholders
  • emergency contact details for them
  • scenarios in which they should be contacted


ID information hierarchy

It is essential the person who reports or finds themselves in a crisis situation knows exactly who they need to speak to. Build out a hierarchy for this within your organisation. This will vary, depending on the size of your NGO.


Determine a workflow

In a crisis scenario, the last thing you want is for anyone to be left wondering how you are going to communicate. Lay this out clearly in your plan. Mobile phones may be useful for contact between locations with reception but if your NGO has staff in remote areas you will need provision for satellite phones. It won’t always be possible or appropriate to communicate via phone so consider written options too. Email is good but SaaS products like Slack or Teams may be more suitable for your business.


ID sample crisis scenarios

Building out sample scenarios and your organisational responses is an important way to prepare for many of the situations you may find yourself in. What those scenarios may look like will vary greatly by organisation but get a team together and list out as many possibilities as you can.


Create guidelines for communicating with media

Having robust media guidelines is essential for managing any potentially negative situation. Ensure you appoint a dedicated spokesperson who is comfortable and confident handling difficult lines of questioning. Have a process in place for where they get their information and how much they release to the media.


Create guidelines for communication on social media

A communication plan should be holistic and contain information on how to use all channels, including social media in a crisis. Outline what can and cannot be covered and how to maintain your organisations tone on social media while covering serious topics.


Share the plan company wide and include in orientations

Once you have completed the plan, it is important everyone is made aware of it. Present your plan to every department and provide easy access to the document at all times. New starters and teams going on deployment should be provided with refresher training.

If your NGO is caught up in a crisis remember things are likely to move fast and emotions will be running high as everyone works to resolve it. Some good rules of thumb; communicate early and often, keep your company voice and have a dedicated space to plan a response whether that’s a physical meeting room or virtual team.

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