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The 6.0 earthquake on the East Coast took everyone by surprise this week. It damaged national monuments like the Washington National Cathedral, which relies on nonprofit funds to rebuild and repair. We are all grateful that there was no widespread damage or loss of life due to this earthquake, but what if there had been? Is your organization ready to respond in case of an emergency? Whether your organization is hands on the ground or sending support in other ways, having a response plan ready and available is key.

How can you prepare your organization to be ready in the event of an emergency so that you can respond quickly and let your constituents know your plan of action? Here are a few simple steps to help you get started:

  1. Build a team. Establish a pre-selected, on-call team that drives decisions and communications around an emergency response effort.
  2. Create an Emergency Response Kit. The easiest place to quickly implement change is your online presence. When creating your kit, consider creating a modified version of your homepage, banner, donation form and email template with images and content ready to be dropped in. Go social. Engage in a two-way conversation. If you can still make changes to your mail and media programs at minimal cost, do so.
  3.  Start communicating. Regardless of your mission, acknowledge what’s happening. The news is affecting your constituents just as it is affecting you. Address it and let them know you care.  If your organization works directly in an emergency or disaster relief area and is raising funds to send support, have a clear call to action on how your constituent base can help:
  4. Be specific. How does your organization intend to help those in need? What, exactly, do you plan to do? Don’t be perceived as glomming onto the latest crisis and taking advantage of a terrible situation and people in need.
  5. Commit. What percentage of funds raised will actually be distributed? By when? Reassure your donors that at least XX% will go directly to helping those in need by a specific date. Then follow through.
  6. Connect. Your response needs to connect with your organization’s purpose or it will confuse constituents. Let Red Cross do blood drives. That’s what they are known for. What are you known for? How can you apply that to this situation?
  7. Mobilize. Ask your constituents to act on your behalf. Be sure to have a clear call to action and plan for that action.  What is it that you want them to do? Donate clothes, blood, food, money, pray or maybe volunteer in some capacity? Then, ask them to engage their network on your behalf and make it simple for them to do so.
  8. Follow up. This is the most important step. Engage your constituents based on the point of entry – in this case, via the emergency at hand. Leverage pictures, videos, and any personal stories you may have. As you provide consistent updates on the issues (don’t forget to usher constituents into the broader mission of what you do and why it matters.

We can’t predict the future, but we can certainly plan for it so that we can respond quickly and appropriately in a time of need.

Do you have an example you’d like to share of how your organization has responded to a crisis in the past? Tell us about it in the comments.