8 Tips for Effectively Communicating During a Crisis
Crisis in animal sheltering can come in many forms—natural disasters, capacity challenges, lack of funds, supplies, or volunteers, and more. Identify your problem (or problems) and move swiftly to share the information and call to actions you need most. During times of crisis, it’s best to focus on a thoughtful and transparent message about your urgent challenges, your commitment to the animals and the community, and how people can take action to assist and support your efforts.
Here are a few key components to effective crisis communications:
Consider your audiences. What do they value, care about, and need to hear from you? Anticipate questions so you can proactively provide messages that are solution-focused and not defensive.
Prepare internally. What you need from staff (and volunteers) will differ from the broader community. Ensure your staff and volunteers have all the details they need to be prepared, including approved messaging, FAQs, and how they can support your broader communications effort (e.g., sharing on social media, etc.). Also, consider the best avenues to deliver messages such as staff meetings, daily rounds, printed signage, and emails.
Understand how people receive information (and the barriers they might face in receiving it). Consider your audience’s language, technology, and access to communication channels. This awareness can help thoughtfully craft and distribute messages to effectively to reach your diverse audience effectively.
Develop messaging swiftly and thoroughly. In times of crisis, it’s critical to act quickly—and smartly — and focus on the facts. Share the tough reality based on solid data and good storytelling. Avoid blaming and sensationalizing. Draft key talking points to ensure consistency across all platforms (media, website, telephones, emails, and social media). Focus on:
Defining the crisis at hand
What you’re already doing and how it’s been going
Clear calls to action of how people can help (bonus if there’s more than one way they can engage)
Unique or important highlights to ease uncertainties (easy volunteer onboarding, specific donation needs, operating hours, appointment-free adoptions, etc.)
Any related pet stories and visuals you can highlight
Highlight your team is doing their very best. Focus on your commitment to providing the very best care for the animals and how fixing the current situation is critical to providing the care your community wants to see.Show that you're still confident in your work, even during challenging times, by calmly presenting the facts while weaving inspiring storytelling with clear calls to action. You can convey emotion and transparency and still show your organization’s commitment to enduring through tough times.
Share the details far and wide. Send out a press release, post on your website, send through your e-newsletters, and post on social media. Consider other opportunities, too, such as posting on NextDoor or other community-centric communications. Prep your subject matter experts to be ready to respond to media inquiries.
Monitor the effectiveness of your communications and adjust as needed. Be sure to track your communications metrics and the success of your calls to action. Additionally, share any public feedback with other teams as appropriate. Did a reporter compliment how clean your shelter was? Tell your team! Did a customer have a hard time signing to foster? Share their desire to help but need for follow-up.
Prepare follow-up messaging to keep supporters engaged. The community (and reporters) love a good success story to celebrate! Offer follow-up messaging, including internal talking points as the situation evolves, thank you’s, and success stories. Even if there have been improvements but needs still exist, provide updates via your various channels. The more you can keep reminding your audience about how they can help and the specific steps for them to take, you will empower them and free up valuable space and resources at the shelter. Additionally, sharing positive stories of how efforts made a life-changing impact for pets will deliver both heart-warming support and inspire others to get involved.
The more effectively you can communicate direct requests based on your organization's needs, the more likely your community will take action to help. Ultimately, your efforts should help remove barriers to lifesaving capacity and increase your impact.
Check out these great crisis messaging examples from the field: