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PR Crisis Management: 7 Steps You Need To Know

PR Crisis Management: 7 Steps to Successfully Handle Your Next Crisis


A poorly managed crisis could cost your nonprofit its reputation, yet developing a solid PR crisis management plan could help maintain the public’s trust through the worst possible crisis.

Has your board discussed the types of crises that could happen? The risk of crises and how to handle them should be part of every nonprofit board’s risk management plan. We’ll outline some of the crises that could impact nonprofits and review the seven steps to handle your next crisis successfully.

What’s the Worst That Could Happen? Types of Crises Nonprofit Boards Should Be Aware Of

An excellent place to start board discussions about PR crisis management planning is by defining a crisis. A crisis is an event that could potentially result in one or more of the following:

  • People feel threatened
  • Property damage
  • Disruption in the normal flow of activity
  • Reputational damage
  • Financial harm

That’s a pretty broad definition, so let’s dig a little deeper and provide specific examples of crises that nonprofit boards could face.

Nonprofit boards tend to have lean budgets, and economic fluctuations can intensify financial concerns. When times are tough, boards may have to make the difficult decision to lay off workers, which could cause speculation about financial difficulties or even bankruptcy.

While your board may have set up a program to educate your employees about the problem of sexual harassment within your nonprofit, it can happen, as it’s a pervasive problem.

Depending on your nonprofit’s location, your board could have to contend with a natural disaster such as floods, hurricanes, or fires that impact your employees and those your nonprofit benefits from. Violence, protests, hostage situations, and terrorism impact communities around the nation.

As hacker sophistication increases, cybersecurity breaches and confidentiality issues are always a threat.

Does it mean that your risk management strategies have failed if your board faces a crisis? Not necessarily. Arley Turner from the Nonprofit Risk Management Center believes a crisis is not evidence of a failure as long as the nonprofit “views risk management as a discipline for coping with uncertainty.” A plan for PR crisis management prepares your nonprofit to handle a crisis well.

Topics for Nonprofit Board Discussion on PR Crisis Management

There is a lot of ground for your board to cover in setting up a plan for PR crisis management. When you’re ready to get started, the following questions will make for lively, informative board discussions:

  • What types of crises could we face?
  • How would such crises manifest and play out?
  • What information would we need to get out in the event of a crisis?
  • What position should the board take on behalf of the nonprofit?
  • Are there any legal considerations with the types of crises we’ve identified?
  • Are there things our board would not want a spokesperson to say publicly?
  • Could the media manipulate or twist your message in some way to show your nonprofit in a bad light?
  • When would be the right time to communicate your nonprofit’s stance internally and externally?

As your board settles on answers to those questions, it will be helpful to set up an efficient structure for crisis management. Regina Phelps, the founder of Emergency Management and Safety Solutions, describes four critical elements of an efficient crisis management process as follows:

  1. Team roles and responsibilities that are identifiable
  2. A formal incident assessment team and process
  3. Practical incident action planning skills
  4. Effective crisis management team communication

7 Steps to Successfully Handle Your Next Crisis

Arley Turner has developed 7 steps of crisis management that your board can use as a model for PR crisis management. The steps are as follows:

  1. Establish a crisis management team or response board. This is something you should do immediately before a crisis emerges.
  2. Gather as much information as possible early on. The crisis management team should feed information to the board as soon as it becomes available. Take responsibility rather than cover up issues to inspire trust despite the crisis. Acknowledge concerns and relate what your board is doing to manage the crisis. If you’re still assessing the situation, it’s okay to say that. It’s better than saying, “no comment.”
  3. Determine how to maintain confidentiality. Too much information could breach confidentiality, yet too little information could feed into speculation, rumors, and gossip. Walk the line between maintaining confidentiality while being transparent and accountable. 
  4. Determine if you will need to enlist the help of one or more third parties. Consultants may bring your board multiple new perspectives and enable better decision-making.
  5. Evaluate all possible courses of action. The most obvious course of action may not be the best course. Take time to do some brainstorming. Something remarkable could come out of it. Offer a public apology if the crisis warrants one. Share what changes you will make to prevent a similar occurrence in the future. 
  6. Consider the long-term implications of each decision. Some decisions will serve your nonprofit well in the short term but could have consequences for the long term. 
  7. Evaluate the situation and make adjustments. Crises don’t always manifest in the way people perceive they will. Crises are unpredictable, and they can have many ups and downs. What seems like a great plan today may call for adjustments tomorrow, and it’s best to be adaptable.

If there were a number eight, it would be to use the best possible tools for communication and collaboration. A board management solution by BoardEffect gives your board and your crisis management team a secure platform where you can collaborate, share notes, and exchange files. Being at the center of a crisis could give your nonprofit bad press that will affect your reputation. Poor or badly executed responses will only serve to make things worse. By having a plan and implementing the right communication tools, your board will become better skilled at PR crisis management.


Theresa Sintetos

Content Strategist and Operations Manager with six years of growth in the same company, moving up from social media specialist to executive strategy and director of operations. Skilled in research, writing and editing broad range of content.

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