Recognizing Veterans in Your Midst Can Bring Attention to Your Nonprofit

By Katherine Kerr, APR

Are any of your volunteers or staff military veterans? If so, you can highlight their continued service on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, and raise awareness for your nonprofit.

Your organization can single out a veteran who is also a volunteer or staff member to recognize on Veterans Day. Or, you can showcase several involved with your organization.

Think strategically about the needs of your organization when deciding who you want to use as an example of continued service. Do you have a veteran of color who might open doors in the minority community and who you might introduce to the minority press in your community? If you have female veteran working with your nonprofit, her story can break down gender stereotypes in addition to garnering attention for your agency.

By talking about continued service to their community and country, you give the media a new angle on traditional Veterans Day stories, which they always appreciate.

You also can help contradict unfortunate stereotypes that combat veterans are debilitated by psychological trauma. Most adjust and are raising families, working and volunteering in their communities.

In addition to pitching this angle to your local media, be sure and give a shout out to veterans in your community on Veterans Day. We owe them much.

Handwritten Thank-You Notes Make Impressions on Donors

Did you write your thank-you note?
Did you write your thank-you note?

By Tim Kubatzky, CFRE

Your auntie was right! Handwritten thank-yous still make an impression.

I know one organization that brings the names of recent donors to board meetings along with a stack of notecards. A personal note from a board member is a great way to thank your donors!

If you need a refresher, or heaven forbid you were not taught cursive writing in school, check out this resource courtesy of Dr. Joe Vitolo.

For anyone interested in learning or improving their cursive script handwriting I would highly recommend Michael Sull’s book entitled ‘American Cursive Handwriting‘. I personally use this book to improve my own cursive penmanship.

The book comes in both a Student edition as well as a Reference edition. I own the Reference edition. Full disclosure: I make no money or profit from the sale of this book.



Risks for Reporters

By Katherine Kerr, APR

A homicide scene is the safest place to be. At least that’s what I told my mother.

Surely a “fluff” live shot of a story on tourism would seem to be a low-risk endeavor for a TV reporter and a videographer. The brutal, premeditated murders of WDBJ-TV journalists Alison Parker and Adam Ward in Roanoke, Va. today prove that assumption wrong.

In general, being a reporter isn’t all that risky. Frankly, there’s a lot of time where it’s hurry up and wait. Or, you’re sitting through boring meetings or trials, writing weather stories or waiting for something to break.

The biggest risk for most journalists is that  you get yelled at by someone who thinks you were unfair or misquoted him. Or pissing off an editor for busting a deadline, a story not working out the way you thought it would, or the worst  –  making a mistake.

In 11 years as a daily newspaper reporter, I never truly felt in danger. I covered night police in Houston, which terrified my mother. She was certain I was in danger when I went to homicide scenes, fires, wrecks and natural and human disasters.

I admit I didn’t tell my mother everything:  the most dangerous place to be was at a homicide scene when grieving relatives showed up.

I was once nearly run over when a car full of family members jumped a curb and roared across the front yard where I was waiting for a statement from investigators. Thankfully a veteran police reporter from another media outlet pulled me out of the way. The family members drove the car almost up the front steps where a young man lay dead.

Another time, an anguished father took his anger and hurt out on me because I was there to report on a game of Russian Roulette gone wrong and the death of his teenage son. He started yelling and pushing me until a medical examiner and TV photographer intervened.

I was mostly telling the truth to my mother about homicide scenes because generally there are lots of armed police officers securing the scene and talking to witnesses. Usually the perpetrator is long gone or in custody.

That said, reporters often do follow police officers and firefighters toward danger when others are running away. They do it to get the story to inform their readers and viewers of the latest tragedy in their community.

The closest I came to a serious problem was during a SWAT standoff when I wandered inside the unsecured perimeter and ended up between the rifle muzzle of a SWAT officer and the house where a man had holed up. After he yelled at me to get out, I found the command station at the other end of the block and sat out the standoff.

Another time an irritated and inebriated Houston Rockets fan threatened to punch me when I tried to get a quote from him about how exciting it was for the Rockets to be in the championship series. He didn’t appreciate me interrupting him watching the game. I found another fan in the bar to interview and got my color story in by deadline.

One night while covering a four-alarm warehouse fire, I fell into a two-foot deep pothole that had filled with water. While I was in no danger of drowning, my ego, elbows and knees took a bruising. Other times, while covering weather disasters, I drove through snow, ice, floods, tornadoes and hurricanes to get the news at the same time officials were warning people to stay off the roads.

I visited people in prison and jails. The only problem I had there was when a sales rep wanted to demonstrate the effectiveness of a cleaner and began spraying it in the warden’s office. Several hours later I had a serious asthma attack and ended up in the emergency room. I received letters from people in prison but never was threatened by them. In fact, one woman thanked me for the fair coverage of her trial.

I admit I was a bit unnerved when I covered two Ku Klux Klan rallies in a remote field in Brazoria County at night. (The guys in white robes knew I was a reporter.) As long as my editor knew where I was, I figured I was safe.

I covered government meetings where people who clearly had mental health issues showed up for the public comment sessions. If things got a little too weird (the guy who told a council member that he dreamed of holding her head) or rowdy (the guy who was agitated because the CIA had removed all his organs and no one in Harris County would help him), law enforcement officers were nearby.

I covered the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle, two airliner crashes and the kidnapping and slaying of a UT student and then the arrest of narcosatanicos in Mexico City. In every instance, I got there after those horrible incidents occurred, so I was in not danger.

That’s not to say that reporting isn’t without risks. I’ve known reporters who have been assaulted or injured covering rallies/protests/mobs. Some have been exposed to dangerous chemicals covering refinery fires or chemical truck rollovers. But those were few and far between.

Certainly those journalists who cover war zones and work in countries where crime and corruption are rampant are at significantly greater risk. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 1,141 journalists have been killed since 1992, including 39 this year. That doesn’t count the two today.

Though I’m no longer in the news business, I share the shock and grief at the senseless slaughter of two young people at the beginning of their careers.

This terrible double homicide highlights three critical social issues facing our country:

  • The failure of our society to diagnose, treat and help people with mental health problems
  • The proliferation of guns in our country
  • Workplace violence

Sadly, perhaps a media introspective on this tragedy involving three of their own may serve to bring these issues to the forefront. Maybe then, serious discussions and change can occur.

Photo courtesy of WDBJ-TV VIA AP.

Turning Sour Notes Into Whiskey Sours

By Katherine Kerr, APR

In the front room of our home sits what I used to consider an instrument of torture. It is about three and a half feet tall, over four feet long and two feet deep. It is made of wood and has bits of metal and pieces of ivory.

It is the plain, innocent-looking upright Baldwin piano bought by my grandparents for my Dad when he was a kid and thought he wanted to learn to play. In short order, he changed his mind, stopped taking lessons and briefly took up tap dancing.

When my parents married, the piano was moved to their home.

Back in the 1960s lots of parents signed up their children for piano lessons. I would see their kids before and after my piano lessons. I would see the kids and their proud parents at piano recitals. Many of those kids pounded and played their way through classical music scores. I was stuck year after year in the same books, never progressing because I never practiced, never cared.

My piano teacher was a lovely widow lady, Mrs. Bair, who lived across the street. She knew early on that I had neither talent nor interest in piano. But, as long as my mother paid for lessons and I reluctantly trudged across the brick street she did her darnedest to impart her passion for music to me.

Every time I sat down though, it was evident I had not opened the music since the previous lesson. I hit the cracks between the keys more than solid notes. Lack of practice and an inability to keep time massacred most compositions.

Whining, sulking, refusing to practice and “forgetting” lessons didn’t deter my mother.

She believed that one day my inner musician would burst forth so she kept encouraging (pestering) me. As we would enter the Colonial Cafeteria and walk past the lounge lizard playing on the piano in the corner, she would point to him and say, “Someday, you could do that!”

Are you kidding?

Why on earth would I ever aspire to play a piano in a cafeteria frequented by the after-church crowd?

Finally in my seventh unproductive year  — my jubilee year — of lessons, Mrs. Bair spoke to my mother. Mercifully for both of us, the lessons ended.

In the following years the piano sat in the laundry room, attracting paper, pens, pencils and other odds and ends. Occasionally Dad would go in, lift the cover over the keys and play a handful of the tunes he had taught himself. I loved listening to him play the same songs over and over. My favorite was one I called the “ballet song” because it sounded like beautiful dancers gracefully spinning across a stage. I later learned it was “Autumn Leaves.”

After my father died, Mother shipped the piano to me, ignoring my protests that I didn’t want it. Never in the 50 years of my life had the piano been tuned. Hitting just a few keys made that obvious.

For about 10 years, I resented the piano taking up space in my front room, collecting dust and mockingly reminding me of my failed musical career.

Then, one night, while watching the TV show Pawn Stars, a solution appeared. A seller had brought in a “prohibition piano,” an instrument gutted and remodeled to hide liquor inside it.

That was the answer to my problem! I enjoy adult beverages and if I could get my piano converted, that would be music to my ears.

I found photos online of other pianos that had been converted and showed them to my neighbor, who happens to be a gifted carpenter. Fortunately, he likes a challenge. We agreed on a price and hauled the piano over to his shop.

Piano BarA couple of months later, I had a beautiful and unique hospitality center. My neighbor and his wife even patched up the piano leg that had been gnawed by Sugar, my childhood mutt.

We had a “piano bar” party to show off our repurposed musical instrument. Friends think I have a very cool piece of functional furniture that gets a lot more use than it did before.

My mother was not happy with the redo. I think she thought it in some way dishonored my dad, who was a teetotaler. I believe he would have said ‘good on you,” for not feeling like I had to keep it as a shrine to him.

The lessons learned are:

If your kids tell you that they don’t like doing something year after year, don’t make them do it! However, if you sign them up for a season of soccer and they decide they don’t like it after the first game, make them finish the season because they have a responsibility to their team. But don’t sign them up for the next season.

Alter your perspective about a problem and view it as an opportunity. It’s never too late to rewrite or rework a negative and make it something of joy.

In my case, I remixed sour notes into whiskey sours.


Words Matter

Words Have Power
By Katherine Kerr, APR

We learn that words have power at an early age.

When someone we cherish and respect tells us he loves us, endorphins flood our bodies and we are happy. When a friend or sibling tells she hates us, we experience a different chemical reaction, the release of cortisol, and are devastated.

The armor of little ditties like, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” and “I’m rubber, you’re glue, whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you,” doesn’t take the sting from hurtful words. We’ve seen how deadly words can be when used to bully someone who eventually decides suicide is an alternative to the poison of hurtful, hateful language.

Writers, politicians and marketers know the power of using the right words. Precise choices mean the difference between action and inaction, hope and hopelessness.

In journalism school, we were taught to use neutral words in an attempt to be fair and unbiased. The word “said” is a neutral word, as is “reported” and “stated.” The reader takes at face value, that the words that reportedly came out of a person’s mouth did so. It is up to the reader or the listener to interpret what the person meant based on the context provided.

When non-neutral words are selected, the impact can be much different. For example, “Patrick Henry wept, ‘Give me liberty or give me death!’ ” The reader could interpret that as a cry of despair rather than a call to action.

Or, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,”mumbled President John F. Kennedy. The listener would think the president was confused, not that he was trying to motivate U.S. citizens to aspire to be part of something bigger than themselves.

Or, “Mr. Gorvachev, tear down this wall!,” pleaded President Ronald Reagan would be seen as a weak request instead of a demand that the Russian president to do right by the people of East Germany.

In recent events, we’ve seen word selections scrutinized and critiqued. When does a “crowd” or a “gathering” become a “protest,” “a riot” or “a melee” and who gets to decide?

Imagine the different reactions to reports that a police officer “laid the woman on the ground,” versus “took her to the ground, “pushed her to the ground,” “shoved her to the ground” or “wrestled her to the ground.” The word choices indicate an escalating show of force which can spark support or outrage toward the woman and the officer.

Word selections can undermine or bolster the words preceding and following them. For example, “I love you,” she said. “I love you,” she wailed. “I love you,” she laughed. “I love you,” she sneered.” I love you,” she argued. “I love you,” she insisted. “I love you,” she whispered. “I love you,” she shouted.

Changing just one word significantly alters the entire meaning of a powerful three-word declaration.

Words inspire, inform and inflame.

Be thoughtful; be responsible. Choose your words carefully.

The 5 Ws & H of Getting Media Coverage

news conferenceWho, What, When, Where, Why  & How?
By Katherine Kerr, APR

Knowing the answers to those classic reporter’s questions about your nonprofit can determine whether or not you get media coverage. Just doing great work doesn’t guarantee you’ll get coverage. You need to present your agency’s story in a way that appeals to the media.

First, Who? Yes, the “who” is your organization AND, more importantly, the people your organization serves or affects. Remember Toby Keith’s song, “It’s All About Me?” The media doesn’t care about you and your organization; they want a story that talks about their viewers and readers. Every pitch you make to the media needs to focus on the folks—in their target market—whose lives are being transformed by your organization.

Be prepared to have the media ask to interview clients and volunteers. They aren’t interested in talking heads prattling on about what your organization does. The media will want to talk to clients and volunteers to get the impact story firsthand. That means you need to identify the best clients and volunteers for your organization and practice talking points with them before you make a pitch. Be ready to arrange the interviews or at least provide the media with contact information for your clients and volunteers.

If you need to protect the identities of clients, explain why and offer solutions, such as changing the names of the clients, or photographing clients from behind while they interact with volunteers or staff. Or, ask the media if they will take photos that obscure the clients’ faces with clothing, hair or props. If the interview is videotaped, ask if the photojournalist will direct the camera on the person’s hands.

What? As in what are you doing that is different and meaningful? Or, what you can prove you do better than anyone else? Now is not the time to trot out your 45-word aspirational mission statement that doesn’t mean anything to anyone except your board and staff.

You need to clearly and concisely say what you do:

  • We help kids in foster care by matching them with trained volunteers.
  • We help low-income elderly people stay in their homes by having volunteers do minor repairs.
  • We give ex-offenders second chances by providing them with job training.
  • We provide ESL classes to refugees fleeing war.
  • We help veterans recover from PTSD by matching them with trained dogs.

When? Is there a specific occasion you’re marking or is this not a timely event? For example, there is a month, a week and a day for almost everything. Think Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Child Abuse Prevention Month, Volunteer Appreciation Week. A resource like Chase’s Calendar of Events can help. If your organization can tie into something like that with a good story, hooray!

If you’re marking the grand opening of a building or addition of a program, that can be a media opportunity if you plan it right. Consider tying into a special anniversary or benchmark achievement.

Or, if you want to get coverage of your program because you want to build awareness with the hope of scoring more money and volunteers, let the media know that your great story is not time sensitive and that you can work with them to arrange a story at their convenience. They will appreciate your flexibility on a slow news day.

Where? Where is work being done? Are there good visuals? The media wants action, people and color. Forget about inviting them to take a photo or video of the ED sitting behind a desk.

Suggest an interesting location where your services are offered that might make a good background. If your volunteers do home repairs, that’s where you should plan an interview. If your provide ESL classes at a library, do a media event there. Dress up a media-opp with colorful banners, signs and t-shirts with your logo and stock or approved client photos. Add balloons, ribbons, toys or educational tools that, props that help tell the story of your agency’s work.

Why? Why do you do what you do? Why is your organization necessary? Do you address unmet needs or enrich your community in some other way? Why is your organization the best solution?

How? How do you do what you do? Do you depend on volunteers? If so, brag on a special volunteer or two (and don’t say you can’t pick just one volunteer). Do you use special equipment or operate on a special site?

Do you fulfill your mission with money raised in the community? If so, talk about impact of donations. For every $25 donated, we can:

  • Train a volunteer
  • Provide school supplies for a child
  • Feed a horse so military veterans can get equine therapy
  • Buy materials for a performing arts camp

Another How is to latch onto a breaking news event. For example, if your organization provides services to victims of domestic violence, during recent incidents involving major sports figures you could have called your local media and talked about how domestic violence is an issue in your community. You could talk about how your agency is addressing the problem in your community.

An example would be a natural disaster and your agency is collecting cleaning supplies to send to the affected area. You could invite reporters to interview volunteers packing supplies into boxes.

If there is a news report of a pit bull attacking someone and your organization is a rescue group for pit bulls, you could invite a reporter to come get acquainted with pit bulls who are loving and playful and are good around people.

Take some time to answer the 5Ws and H. Come up with a story angle that is different from what you’ve seen done before, then contact the assignments desk of your local media outlet to pitch the story. Getting the media to talk about your organization makes good business sense, it is free publicity and it’s like getting a seal of approval.

This Mother’s Day Be a Media Darling

Mother's Day messageBy Katherine Kerr, APR

Most nonprofits want the media to cover them. But, too often, they don’t have the story the media wants.

Your organization can change that by positioning itself as a resource and expert. You do that by hitching your wagon to holidays and breaking media events.

Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are coming up. The media is interested in stories that are more interesting than brunches and barbeques. If your organization works with children in foster care, you can talk about how your agency makes a difference for children whose parents are absent. Highlight a foster parent who serves as a surrogate parent for children in care. If you work with at-risk families, talk about how your organization keeps families intact.

May is Older American’s Month. If you have volunteers who are seniors, identify one or two who are making a second career out of giving back to their communities by tapping into their experience, skills and knowledge.

Look ahead on the calendar and figure out upcoming holidays, observances and community events that are logical story possibilities. Identify potential stories and prepare clients, volunteers and staff to put your spin on the stories.

The media also love to localize national and international breaking news stories. When problems with our education system make headlines, talk about how your mentoring organization helps kids with academics.

If your organization works on social justice issues, talk about how your agency is working to solve problems in your community that are similar to those receiving national attention. In the wake of police shootings around the country, organizations in various communities are exploring how to avoid “becoming another Ferguson.” Share what you are doing to address racism in your town and build relations with law enforcement.

When there is an international disaster, such as the Nepal earthquake, notify the media if your organization is collecting funds to aid those affected by the disaster. Make sure that what your organization does is appropriate and doesn’t cause problems for aid agencies, such as sending truckloads of toys and used clothing overseas when funds for food, water and shelter are more practical.

Don’t manufacture a program or project just to get coverage. To win the media’s trust, your story pitch needs to be genuine, a real part of what your agency does.

What are you doing to get the word out about your organization?

Three Things Donors Want to Know

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 2.20.36 PMBy Tim Kubatzky, CFRE

Thank-yous are essential to donor cultivation and the next ask, so we usually take the time to get this step right. But, because thanking is so important, it makes sense to regularly take stock of our stewardship efforts.
Donors of all types and levels want to know:

  • Did you get my gift?
  • Did you use it like you said you would?
  • Did it help?

I’ve noticed THREE BIG TRAPS in the stewardship department that correspond to these donor queries. The first is not acknowledging a gift quickly. The second is not reporting back on the use of the gift, and the third is the lack of accounting for results.

For most gifts, the simple solution is to establish a quick and efficient gift process. Send the first acknowledgement as soon as possible, then follow up with more elaborate thanks in keeping with the size and complexity of the gift. The larger and more complicated the gift, the more it bears watching. Unusual gifts or gifts from a key constituent need thorough follow-up to make sure the funds are handled correctly and an appropriate thank you reaches the donor.

Pay attention to any restrictions or preferences a donor places on a gift, and make sure it is used appropriately. Remember, no one at your organization is as invested as you are in making sure gifts are used appropriately. Once you have used the gift, report back to the donor so they are assured their gift went to the program or area for which they intended.

Many of us miss the opportunity to reinforce the giving decision—and build donor loyalty—by sending only a gift transaction receipt, the minimum requirement under the IRS guidelines. That is a lost opportunity to let your donors know that their gifts, when combined with those of others in the annual fund, allowed you to do great things! For an excellent recent take on this topic, including examples, see Simone Joyaux’s post in the Nonprofit Quarterly.

Your work is not done when the gift comes in. You have to follow up relentlessly. Anticipate snags in the process. Over-communicate. Calendar out major gift reports, even if the donor does not require them.

Foundations have started a conversation on stewardship around “outcomes versus outputs.” Donors who are confident you used their gifts appropriately still want to know that the program they support is actually working. Mario Morino’s book Leap of Reason is provocatively informative on this subject. A parallel conversation about accountability comes from Dan Pallota, who has a great TED talk about how using overhead costs as a measurement of effectiveness in nonprofits is wrong-headed.

To be accountable for the results of your programs you first must know what you’re trying to accomplish. Then, you must be able to document the difference you are making in the world, or at least in your corner of it. Only then can you communicate results to your donors.

In summary, three of the most important best practices of stewardship are to:

  • Acknowledge gifts quickly
  • Keep donors informed
  • Be accountable for results

Your goal is to be a step ahead of your donors, so they never even have to ask:

  • Did you get my gift?
  • Did you use it like you said you would?
  • Did it help?


Crises can be scary if you’re not prepared

halloween-clip-artAs we approach Halloween, stores are decked out in all manner of decorations and costumes designed to scare, terrify and horrify you.

As a professional public relations professional, nothing frightens me more than an organization that does not have a viable crisis communications plan.

And, yet, too few do.

Oh, they might have a giant binder with pages and pages of scenarios and prescriptions for what to do if X happens. But in the midst of a crisis, who has time to locate the binder and find the appropriate scenario? And, who will you call if some or all of the people listed in the precious binder are no longer with the organization?

Every crisis is different and there is no way to predict every possible scenario that could strike an organization. Let’s start with the official definition of a crisis: anything that can harm the operations and/or reputation of an organization.

That leaves a lot of leeway.

A crisis can include natural and human-caused disasters, ranging from floods, tornadoes and hurricanes to embezzlement, client injury or death or someone hacking into your computer system and stealing or destroying data.

Note: not every crisis will become a media story. But by having a plan in place you can better address the impact of a crisis on your employees, clients and other stakeholders.

Rather than wasting time on developing unwieldy documents that are likely to be useless and outdated before you finish printing and distributing them, develop a one-page plan and keep it handy.

When I worked for a faith-based social service agency with multiple facilities and services lines throughout two states, I produced such a document on hot pink paper and sent it to all the managers. Regardless of how they filed, stacked or dumped their paperwork, that hot pink paper was going to stand out when they needed it.

Here are the basics of a viable crisis communications plan:

  • Know who you need to get to the table.
  • Develop the talking points.
  • Designate a spokesperson.

Who is at the table and who should be the spokesperson depends on the crisis. If the CEO of a company has done something wrong, he or she should not be at the table and certainly not talking to the media and stakeholders. If a pastor’s child has been injured during a church mission trip, the pastor should not be expected to carry the burden of going to the meeting and making public statements.

Those at the table should be a small, thoughtful, informed group of your stakeholders. They could include your executive team, the chair or president of your board and a professional with communications expertise.

The crisis communications team’s charge is to gather the following information:

  • what happened,
  • who is involved,
  • who is likely to be involved,
  • who do we need to inform,
  • what are we doing to address the event, and, if possible,
  • what are we doing to prevent this from happening again?

The answers to those questions will determine your talking points. In most situations, attorneys are going to join the fray and will advise your organization to say nothing so you avoid admitting liability.

That is the absolute worst thing to do.

When you hear that an organization has refused to comment or could not be reached for comment, the default assumption is that the organization has done something wrong. People will remember and hold onto that assumption long after the crisis has abated.

It is imperative and possible to say SOMETHING, while not assigning blame. Saying something makes your organization more human and humane. That goes a long way toward building or rebuilding your reputation when you need it the most.

The final important step is to designate a single spokesperson for your organization. The reasons are simple: you make sure an approved, single message goes out. Your organization needs to instruct all internal and external constituents that all questions are to be directed toward the designated spokesperson, who will use the agreed-upon talking points to respond to questions. All stakeholders must get the same information to avoid conflicting messages.

If the crisis rises to the level of a media story and your spokesperson is not media savvy, he or she can contact a public relations/media relations professional for help and practice on delivering the message and responding to questions. (Identify that person when you develop your plan.) Your spokesperson needs to be genuine, not slick, when delivering the message and able to stick to the agreed-upon talking points.

Using the talking points, your spokesperson can say:

“This happened. We deeply regret that it happened. We are doing everything possible to address this situation. Our thoughts and prayers are with those who are affected.”

The spokesperson can read it as a prepared statement or distribute it electronically. If he or she is comfortable taking questions, he or she can respond, but must stick to the talking points. Stick to the facts. Avoid speculation and giving a rambling response. Keep it short and sweet.

Above all, there are two rules to follow when answering questions from the media to avoid damaging (or further damaging) your organization’s reputation:

  1. Don’t lie.
  2. Acknowledge when you don’t know the answer to a question and that you will get the information to the questioner as soon as possible (and do it).

Once your organization has developed the skeleton of its crisis communications plan, it is incumbent upon the organization’s leadership to practice it regularly. Brainstorm with your staff and stakeholders about possible scenarios, even ones that make you uncomfortable. Check the headlines and do “what if this happened to us?” Walk through the steps of who would be called to action, what the talking points are and who will be the spokesperson in each scenario.

During such practices, encourage participants to think way outside the box about what could go wrong and affect your organization. You might even head off a potential crisis.

If you make it a regular practice to discuss and test your crisis communications plan, your organization is more likely to come out of a terrifying situation whole.

Katherine Kerr holds an Accreditation in Public Relations and has worked in public relations and news for more than 30 years. She is the president of Polaris Non-Profit Solutions, LLC, and can be reached at or (512) 705-7696.

For a downloadable version of this post, please click Crisis Communications_Polaris NPS10.14.

After the #IceBucketChallenge

We knew it was only a matter of time before we got tapped for the #IceBucketChallenge, the phenomenon that is sweeping the globe.

And we were.

However, here in Central Texas we’re in the midst of a multi-year severe drought, so dumping a bucket of ice water over our heads seems a bit, well, wasteful. We’ll opt out of the cold shower and make a gift to support research into treatments, cures and prevention of the neurological disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, which is a noble idea.

Meanwhile, all over the world, nonprofit staff, boards and volunteers are trying to figure out how they can replicate the #IceBucketChallenge to benefit their own worthy organizations.

Nonprofit staff are being told they need to come up with something that will go viral (never mind that you can’t make anything go viral; it has to be an organic process in which people buy into the idea and they choose to participate). Already a group in India has started a copycat movement called the #RiceBucketChallenge, which encourages people to feed the hungry (also a noble idea).

Professional fundraisers are shaking their heads, wringing their hands and issuing statements that while the response and the cause it benefits are just wonderful, this isn’t a sustainable fundraising model that helps nonprofits in the long run.

And they are right.

Giving needs to be a cultivated mindset if we hope to see transformative impact

Philanthropy isn’t as simple as creating a video showing folks getting doused and gasping from the shock of icy water. Nor is it be about wearing a yellow wristband (or the rainbow of copycat wristbands that followed) to demonstrate that you are among the cool folks who are in the know and do the right thing.

Nor should it be about cutting off your hair or shaving your head to help or show support for cancer survivors, or occasionally stuffing change into plastic boxes at fast food restaurants or texting a donation during a hastily produced telethon after the latest disaster.

While those gifts cannot be discounted and the organizations who receive them appreciate them, they are in reality fleeting feel-good acts that lack long-term impact. Philanthropy should be much more than a cause de jour.

We propose the #365BucketChallenge which encourages you to be thoughtful and strategic in your giving, The #365BucketChallenge urges you to commit to making recurring gifts to support the infrastructure and services provided by nonprofits, many of which are just as obscure as ALS was before the #IceBucketChallenge.

Are you in?