In the religious and nonprofit world, a leader’s moral failure still has a major impact. Along with the theological and scriptural issues, there’s also a significant trust issue involved. The common thinking is that if he or she can’t be trusted to honor marriage vows, then the leader is likely untrustworthy in other areas as well. However you personally fall on the spectrum of that thinking, the truth is, churches, ministries, and nonprofits take a heavy hit when a leader has an affair, or worse, is involved in illegal sexual behavior. In these cases, how the organization reacts in the first 24 hours is critical. Having advised numerous organizations through these difficult situations, here’s my recommendations for the first 24 hours of the crisis:
Whatever the size of your church, nonprofit, or business, you need a spokesperson. Hopefully, you’ll never have to deal with a crisis or disaster, but my advice is to always be ready. The question isn’t “if” a crisis will happen, but “when.” Even if you’re involved in assisting after natural disasters you’ll encounter the media on many levels, so it’s always good to put your best foot forward. So what makes a good spokesperson? Here’s what you need to consider:
I asked a distinguished panel of donor development and fundraising experts about the advice they would give churches and ministries during a financial crisis. The panel included Mary Hutchinson, Mark Dreistadt, Dale Berkey, and David Holland. I asked them to send me a couple of suggestions that could help a church or ministry get through a tough financial time. Here’s their suggestions:
Rarely a week goes by that you don’t see a public relations nightmare happening at a local church, ministry, or nonprofit. From a leader’s moral failing, to financial improprieties, to inappropriate sexual relationships, there are many ways a crisis can damage or destroy an otherwise great organization. And sometimes a crisis happens that’s not even your fault. That’s why I asked Kathy Lovin, who does a brilliant job managing Public Affairs and Communications for The Salvation Army USA Western Territory for some coaching on handling a crisis. Here’s her excellent advice:
Chris Christie may be finished as a presidential candidate, and maybe not. But either way, he experienced a potentially catastrophic event this past week with his now famous “Bridgegate” problems. While the vast majority of media critics and consultants agree that he’s handling the crisis very well so far (taking full responsibility, firing people at fault, having a 2 hour press conference to deal with questions), it certainly left him in a difficult position. It’s an instructional moment for leaders of all types for two reasons:
My father, Dr. Bill Cooke (left) was a mainline denominational pastor, and during the late 60’s and early 70’s he started exploring the Charismatic renewal. As a result, he began teaching on the Holy Spirit, and our church really started growing. There was an explosion of interest in that subject at the time and people started coming from everywhere. But there was one problem:
Sir Jonathan Miller is a highly regarded theatrical director based in London, and while I was watching him work on a BBC documentary the other night, he said something brilliant: “You learn to ice skate in the summertime.” He mentioned it was a lesson his father taught him. It took awhile for it to sink in, and then I realized the power of what he was really saying. Once the game, project, production, business, crisis – whatever starts, it’s too late to learn what to do. Take the classes, learn the techniques, get the knowledge before the crisis begins, or
If you missed my video during the Nine’s Conference, then you can view it here. I was asked to speak for a few minutes to Church, ministry, and nonprofit leaders about what they should be thinking about in order to avoid a “PR Nightmare.” Here’s what I recommended. I’d love to know your response:
Download episode 23: Crisis Public Relations: What Happens When Things Go Wrong (35 MB).
Although this podcast episode was originally produced a few years ago, it’s still a good reminder of the importance of handling public relations problems well. In this episode, I discuss “Crisis PR” – what do you do when something bad happens to your company, non-profit, or religious organization. It’s a short, information packed look at how to respond during a crisis, especially in the digital age. Learn how to respond effectively, and win back the public’s trust.
While we all like to take our time and do things as well as possible, there are times when speed matters. One of those times is during periods of disruptive change. In an organization, once you decide to pull the trigger, dramatic change needs to be dealt with quickly. If not, the vacuum will be filled with criticism, second thoughts, and frustration. before long, your “change” has crashed and burned. Get everything in place, prepare your team, and then make it happen. Don’t fool around, over think it, or debate it until it’s too late. Act. Pull the trigger. Make the change happen. Because during a crisis, urgency matters.