Strength Through Stress: Four Reasons to Test Your Nonprofit’s Crisis Response Plan

Strength Through Stress: Four Reasons to Test Your Nonprofit’s Crisis Response Plan

March 13, 2017

by Thomas Cieslak

It’s there, sitting on the shelf just waiting for the right time.  Times are good and your nonprofit’s crisis communications plan gathers dust and rust from not being used.  Then it happens – the panicked early morning phone call.  The plan worked well the last time it was used for this type of incident, it should work just as well this time, right?

It is a best practice for nonprofits to have contingency plans on standby for when the organization’s reputation is in peril.  It’s less common, however, for nonprofits to periodically test these plans.

Occasionally stress-testing your crisis response helps work out kinks in the information flow before minutes begin to matter.  It gives you an opportunity to strengthen the plan, as stress testing often finds weak areas and blind spots.  Stress-testing ensures you are prepared for the right crisis and lastly, it ensures everyone involved in the process knows their role.

Work out Kinks in Your Information Flow

Effective crisis communications hinges on reaching the right people in the right positions to control damage to personal and professional reputations.  When minutes matter, it is essential to have correct contact information for media members and staff.

Stress-testing can reveal personnel transitions you are unaware of, outdated phone numbers and misspelled emails.  Journalists frequently switch beats and the worst emails during a crisis can come from a media member no longer in the business or an error message.

Find Weak Areas and Blind Spots

Testing your crisis plan can help identify its weaknesses and blind spots – things you didn’t know you were unaware of.  Stress testing provides the opportunity to explore scenarios and event branches not considered in the original development of the plan.

Occasionally only a minor tweak is necessary to keep you prepared.  Other times, you’ll strike out against the unexpected curveballs thrown at you.  When probing does identify a weak spot in your plan, reinforce your defenses by developing additional contingencies and remain prepared for what may come.

Keep Your Plan Current

Technology, culture and current events can make some of the tools in your crisis response kit in need of polishing or render them entirely obsolete.  Emerging trends and new communication mediums can also punch holes in your ability to respond in an emergency.

Stressing your crisis response can help you identify which tools have some rust on them from the progress of time and others which can be archived to keep your plan lean.  Additionally, tests can highlight gaps in your plan crated by culture and technology’s progression.

Define Roles and Responsibilities

The first time your team uses life-saving procedures should be during training, not in the heat of crisis.  Military service members and first responders utilize this principle because it ensures everyone involved knows their role.  This maxim applies to crisis communications, too.

Possession of a response plan is only half the necessary preparation for a crisis; knowing who does what during its implementation comprises the other.  Using stress tests to rehearse your plan ensures each member in the process knows their role and responsibilities.  This works toward preventing both message fratricide and wasted energy on duplicate efforts.

A crisis communications plan is an essential tool nonprofits employ to preserve their image and reputation in the wake of adversity.  Like any tool or piece of equipment, it needs proper maintenance and care.  Stress tests fulfill this role by ensuring information will flow quickly to the right people, helping you identify blind spots, keeping you equipped with the right contingencies and ensuring everyone involved knows what part they play in the process.

Thomas Cieslak HeadshotRoaring Lamb, husband, father, Cause Consultant, hobbyist photographer and military officer, Maj. Thomas Cieslak’s photos and stories appear in numerous national news outlets and publications. Currently, he is a student in Georgetown University’s Public Relations and Corporate Communications master’s program. The thoughts and opinions expressed in his writings are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Defense or the United States Army.