Nonprofit Success & Better Outcomes in the Face of Disruption

Part 1: Crisis Preparation

Here are some scientific facts:

  • The Earth orbits the Sun at roughly 67,000 miles per hour.
  • The Earth spins on its axis at roughly 1,000 miles per hour.
  • The fastest speed ever traveled by humans occurred on the Apollo 10 mission in 1969, when the module reached 24,816.1 miles per hour.

The blue planet we call home and the inhabitants on it are capable of remarkable speed. Despite this, the last two years have, at times, felt like the world has come to a stop. However, while the world itself has slowed, the world of philanthropy has not.

2020 saw a total of $412.65 billion in philanthropic giving from individuals and foundations, a combined 16.6% increase from the previous year (Nonprofit Quarterly). But what happens when disaster strikes home, and nonprofits are the ones dealing with their own crisis? This article explores successful practices nonprofits can implement to better prepare themselves for tomorrow.

Your Crisis Team

Organizations that rely on philanthropic support need a crisis communications team at the ready. Like any operational committee, this team should include members from various departments, backgrounds, and levels of employment. A leader within your organization with an outward facing role should be a key member of this team. Roles and responsibilities should be assigned, such as who will help formulate and deliver public statements, who will track public response – both emotional and philanthropic, who will manage social channels, and who will maintain close communication with all constituents. A meeting schedule should be set for this team to continuously update plans and anticipate any challenges they may face in crises.

Your Plan & Goals

Creating a good crisis communications plan starts with a broad approach. It is important for organizations to have a general idea of various disruptions they may face in today’s uncertain environment.

Your plan should include a timeline laying out steps from the moment of disruption to the weeks, months, and year(s) that follow it. It is vital to determine when to stay silent and when public communication is necessary. Employees should be made aware of the situation from leadership immediately, and a public statement, if appropriate, should be made within 12-24 hours of crisis occurrence, with the designated action steps and responsibilities handled by your crisis team from that point on.

Goal setting is vital in crises and largely centers around cost. How do you set your financial goals and how are you going to meet those goals? What have you budgeted in blue-sky times to help offset some of the financial hit? What is this crisis going to cost your nonprofit in terms of lost earned revenue, physical damage to facilities, labor disruption, etc. What is your response to the crisis going to cost in terms of expanding programs, reconfiguring delivery of services, etc. Your financial needs should be made public to motivate potential donors and stress urgency. It can be difficult to estimate the philanthropic support needed but having a measurable idea of what to achieve can help guide your organization towards best outcomes.

Your Messaging & Mission

The central guiding principles in most nonprofits are their mission and vision statements and values. When facing a crisis, it is important for organizations to stay grounded in their values and remember why they do the work they do, ultimately connecting the crisis and need for philanthropic support back to the mission. Messaging should also be crafted in a way to reach a broader audience. A basic set of questions to ask yourself when creating your messaging is the following:

  • Who do we want to know?
  • What do they need to know?
  • When do they need and want to know?

Having these statements and message plans at the ready will expedite the process – where response may typically be slow – and make for more effective fundraising across audiences.

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe. – Abraham Lincoln


As the pace of daily life continues to accelerate back to normalcy and the world feels like it has started moving once more, the feeling of security slowly returns. Disruptions seem to come and go rapidly. While they may feel never-ending when you’re facing one, it is the preparation you take when you are not that leads to positive outcomes. Take the time while you have it. Ensure your team is prepared. Make sure your plan feeds into your goals. Don’t be slowed by lack of preparation. Deftly navigate the hard times and come out of them stronger than when you entered