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Be ready

Vicki Hermansen | May 16, 2019

Tips and Tools to tell the Kiwanis story

You know that preparation is the key to success. When your club holds a meeting, you use an agenda to keep you on track. When it’s time to spend money, you turn to your budget to make sure your club’s hard-earned money is spent on projects that will benefit kids. So what do you do when things don’t go as planned and you find your club in crisis? You turn to your crisis communications plan to avoid a public relations disaster. 

How serious is the situation? 

What’s the difference between a “situation” and a “crisis?” A crisis could be an injury, a death, an accident or accusations about the integrity or reputation of Kiwanis and can be brought on by a person (a member) or an event (an accident at a Kiwanis event or involving a member of Kiwanis). A crisis needs immediate action and often receives media attention and has long-term consequences. A situation leaves no long-term harm, but could escalate to a crisis if not properly managed. 

An example of a crisis involving a member could be a member who has been accused of theft of embezzlement, allegations that a youth leader has behaved inappropriately or charges leveled against a student. An example of a crisis at an event could be an accident at a club-sponsored street festival, fair or fundraising event. 

If we have a problem, who should we turn to first? 

It’s smart to get people into positions now so they’re ready and trained if and when needed. If your club does not have a public relations chair, determine who could fill that role. It should be someone who has worked in or with the media or in public relations, advertising or in another communications role. Your club can assemble a crisis team and review some situations that could escalate into a crisis if not properly managed.  

If you learn of a crisis situation, gather your crisis team. Your club president, secretary and public relations chair are examples of members who can be helpful in a crisis. Determine if the event or allegations are a crisis or a situation. 

Your club should identify one spokesperson. Your committee can answer the questions and frame a response, but your club should have a singular spokesperson — and that person does not have to be the club president. It should be a member who is able to return calls quickly, is comfortable making public statements and is a trusted and well-regarded member of the community. 

Then, work your plan. Your crisis team should prepare a holding statement that will allow you to address immediate questions while learning more about the incident. You can work on a broader response as more facts come in.   

This is just a list of the basics — there's a lot to learn about crisis communications. But it’s important to know you are not alone. Email pr@kiwanis.org for help with a response to a crisis. Most districts have District Public Relations Coordinators who can help as well. 

Kiwanis also has resources to help. Visit the Kiwanis website and download the PR Tips & Tools booklet. Turn to page 24 and follow the guidelines for crisis communications.   

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