Empathically, yes! The new kid on the block for bad news has been social media, but we still seem to give a lot of weight to stories that arrive via more traditional media; the TV, newspaper and magazines.
What would you do if your cause was given national network coverage that spins your clients and work in an unattractive or untrue light? What is the best course of action?
Gauge the Magnitude of the Problem
Having prepared yourself for this possibility, you know you must take action. But how big a deal does it have to be? The danger is that if that a press comment appears in the ‘legitimate’ press, such as the New York Times or Wall Street Journal, or on TV, it can be seen to be as a more qualified piece of information, and that sound byte will then be copied to other media outlets.
But sometimes, a response will lend credibility to stories that they didn’t have in the first place. One way to address the need is to compare the gravity of the complaint or allegation against the credibility of the publication or the writer. If it is NBC news, no doubt you must respond.
You must be proactive: you are the advocate for your organization and its constituents. If the message is not justified or correct, it is your duty to speak up. Just as with social media, the timely delivery of an accurate concept of message, mission and programming can go a long way towards correcting inaccurate information, and its spread.
Contact the journalist, or speak to the editor and directly address the inaccuracies. No journalist wants to publish something that’s incorrect; you may want to ask for a retraction or correction. Instant uploading and messaging via social media, means the press and the public have rapid access to all kinds of sources that can remain anonymous, or originate from un-verified sources. Remember that often third parties are only too happy to embellish an existing story. Offer the journalist trustworthy information about the subject.
If it is a big deal, there is strong chance you will have a number of other journalists following up, and offering additional opportunities for your response. Make your message clear, non-defensive, and most importantly, factual.
Make Your Message Clear, Non-defensive, and Factual.
Publish this on your website, right up front. Be sure the message is clear for your board, staff, and other important stakeholders, such as volunteers and partners.
Being Quiet and Hoping It Will Blow Over Backfires Every Time
By failing to respond to a serious allegation, you risk losing control of the story. Being well prepared with your facts, and having identified an ‘official’ spokesperson helps you retain control of the situation. Without a strong response, the message is driven and managed by others, not you.
If nature abhors a vacuum, media is much worse; your silence will allow others to speak for you.
If you’d like help putting your non profit emergency kit together, get in touch by email here or by voice on 310 828 6979.
Cindy Lauren is the Principal of
As well as advising Executives and Boards on all aspects of nonprofit management, the firm specializes in developing fundraising solutions for all sizes of organizations. Connect with Cindy: Twitter, Linkedin, Quora
Written while listening to:Drafting – Music to Write to – Create Flow