Non-Profit Communications: Building a Strategy During COVID-19

Non-profit organizations have been adversely impacted by COVID-19.

Traditional networking spaces, face-to-face events, and the ability to meet and draw on donors has been limited -- if not impossible.

It's become increasingly evident that, rather than sit on the sidelines and wait, life under the guidelines of social distancing is the new normal. Rather than attempting to wait things out, non-profits need to get back on the road.

Most organizations struggle in this space, limited funding disallows for an investment in communications. With your strategy thrown off track, how do we back to growing publicity?

Fortunately, non-profit communications is largely in the public relations field. So the financial investment can (and should) be minimal. There are a few easy steps you can take to remain relevant during COVID-19, and maintain an impactful communications strategy.

1. Leadership During Crisis.

Although the initial shock of the virus has long ago worn off, the social and psychological impacts of the virus are still here. Most are still working remotely, some are still in total quarantine, and state and local guidelines are becoming more restrictive in some areas.

This serves as a stark reminder that this episode is far from over. We're still living in this harsh reality. It's the responsibility of every organization to lead during this crisis.

How to accomplish that:

  • Do a wellness check. Make sure that your audience is doing okay. Psychologically, this time is challenging for some.

  • Create virtual spaces to connect. Generate opportunities to connect with your public online, give folks a chance to interact with one another in a completely safe way.

  • Support Local. Make sure that you're highlight opportunities to support your community and call attention to other organizations that are doing the work to aid impacted populations right now.

  • Share Information. Exist as a hub of information for your public. Always be in constant contact, updating them about COVID in your community.

  • Keep Working. Be transparent about the work you're doing right now. Share how you've adapted to these new guidelines. Highlight the work you've been doing along with the things that you've had to put on the back burner. Be transparent with your supporters, that will go a long way.

2. Revisit Your Strategy

It's certain that your original strategy for this year has already gone into the recycling bin. That was a super frustrating moment. Don't let it get the best of you. Take the time to sit down and revisit that strategy, plan out a new course of action for the duration of the year.

It's okay if you have no idea of what to do. Most of us don't. You can create a simple framework for the future and leave ample space for flexibility. Now is a great time to try new things, take risks, and experiment with programming and outreach initiatives.

Make sure you sit down with everyone involved in the strategic planning process, and include them in the conversation. The way that we do business has impacted everyone.

  • Board of Directors

  • Staff

  • Donors

  • Vendors

  • Beneficiaries

  • Funders and Grantmakers

  • Partner Organizations

  • Government Agencies

3. Don't Be Silent

The worst thing to do right now is be silent. Consumers are looking for brands to lead right now. That means you need to respond to COVID, you need a plan for the future, and you need to speak up on civic and social issues.

This is important for a few key reasons:

  • Consumers care about ways different brands are responding. They want to know that you're following CDC guidelines.

  • It's an easy way to generate content for your communications strategy.

  • Donors need to know exactly what you're doing and how you're responding to this crisis.

When speaking up on these issues, make sure that you still look for creative ways to share information. Speaking about COVID, or other obligatory issues doesn't have to be boring.

Invest in graphic communications, videography, and more. Don't limit yourself to plain-text posts. Those tend to be clinical and don't yield a lot of engagement.

4. Care About Your Donors

When sharing communications, updates, and future plans, remember to balance out all of that 'me' content with a little bit of 'you.'

Care about what your stakeholders are doing, how they're responding to this crisis.

This, again, is a really manageable task. Here are some tricks:

  • Check in with your donors. Just find ways to connect virtually with stakeholders, ask how they're doing. This is quick and easy, and lets them know that you care.

  • Make them a part of your strategy and planning. As you continue to review and change your strategy in the coming months, reach out to donors to be apart of that process. Make them feel included, let them know that you value their opinion as much as their pocketbook.

  • Find ways to create value. Generate and support initiatives that have purpose. You'll want to invest in things that are worth getting a donation for.

5. Language Matters

This is always important in communications. When you're going through a crisis, the importance is heightened.

How do we use the correct language? In truth, lots of different ways.

  • Choose and hopeful and optimistic message. As is often the case, it's best to internalize any negative response. Consumers are looking to brands for leadership, be a place where they can receive a hopeful, yet honest message.

  • Avoid cliche. Every brand has used the same few phrases to discuss COVID. Consumers are getting fatigued by the same old dull routine. Avoid phrases like: "Out of an abundance of caution," / "In the midst of COVID," / "In these unusual times..." and more. Be original

Non-profit communications can be a challenging road on a normal day. Engaging in meaningful PR tactics bears a large workload that some organizations simply aren't equipped for.

Engaging in this strategy in the middle of the pandemic? That's a whole different story.

While the list above certainly isn't comprehensive, it does provide useful guidelines to every organization. Understanding these steps will help accomplish your communications goals for the duration of the pandemic.

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