The COVID-19 pandemic took everyone by surprise. But those nonprofits that had an emergency response marketing plan in place have been able to navigate these uncharted waters more effectively than other organizations. Such plans facilitate quick decisioning and provide a cohesive series of predetermined steps to follow, which can help organizations more effectively manage their resources and stay on message.
Now is the perfect time for every organization to develop a rapid-response marketing plan by building on recent experiences and lessons learned from managing their response to the COVID-19 impact. Follow these steps to be prepared for the next unexpected event.
First, Gather Stakeholders
It’s critical that the plan is developed with the full participation of key stakeholders to ensure alignment on the communications and execution plan — before a disaster happens. Be sure to include staff members who manage communication channels including email, social media, digital and direct mail, as well as creative and implementation teams, such as copywriters, designers and developers who are responsible for message design and deployment.
In addition, bring key vendors and agency staff who are part of the campaign production process to the discussion to gather their input and recommendations.
Recognize That Crises Come in Many Forms
The next emergency is unknown. But every organization will at one point face some type of crisis situation that will require emergency response messaging. That may be in response to a natural disaster, a global political issue, a public relations crisis or a sudden organizational leadership transition.
Before crafting your plan, consider the different types of rapid-response issues that may impact your organization, and prioritize the most urgent one that needs a playbook.
Define the Plan’s Purpose
Just as there are different types of crises, there are different types of playbooks. Define the purpose of your plan — is it to raise funds in support of disaster relief? Is it to manage direct response fundraising in affected areas (i.e. suppressions)? Is it to manage donor relationships in times of crisis? Is it to respond to the media?
Be clear about the focus and project goals to avoid common pitfalls in trying to craft a plan to address all types of emergencies. The more specific the plan, the more actionable and effective it will be.
Incorporate Key Components in Every Playbook
Use these best practices to build out your rapid response marketing plan:
- Activation criteria: Develop a set of questions to help determine whether an unexpected event meets the requirements for activating your emergency response marketing plan. The questions should be tuned to your organization’s purview and purpose: Is the organization or its supporters directly impacted? Does the organization deliver a service or program to individuals affected by the disaster? Is it a short-term emergency, or is there ongoing need for support?
- Single decision-maker: Designate one person who has the authority to make final decisions on all aspects of planning, from the go/no-go decision whether to activate the rapid response plan to approving budget and expenses, creative and brand marketing. The response team should have a clear chain of command and support responsibilities to facilitate quick decisioning and delivery.
- Templates: Prepare templated assets to be deployed, including email, digital ads and social posts, and identify persons responsible for execution. Predesigned assets and prewritten message copy will streamline approvals and deployment.
- Target audience: Define who should receive appeals and who should not when developing your multichannel audience plan across email, social, digital and mail. Some emergency messaging may be appropriate only for the most active donors who are well informed and quick to respond. Other rapid-response event messaging may be useful for introducing and recruiting new donors to your cause. Also, remember to review audience suppressions with any emergency marketing deployments.
- Third-party agreements: Review and update third-party contacts, agreements and asset requirements with vendors, consultants and others who participate in the development and execution of marketing and fundraising campaigns. Define in advance your organization’s expectations and requirements with third-party partners for quick turnaround of assets and deliverables.
- Post-event strategy: The post-disaster engagement and cultivation strategy is critical and often forgotten once the emergency ends. Develop a post-event messaging strategy for new and current supporters to continue building the relationship and deepening the connection with the organization.
- Prepare and rehearse: Practice executing the plan with team members in test drills. Identify any bottleneck issues and update the plan to ensure it remains relevant and current.
Take time now to assess and prepare your organization’s marketing and fundraising rapid-response playbook to be ready for the next crisis event, whenever it comes.
Eve Smith is an experienced fundraiser with more than 20 years of nonprofit direct response marketing expertise. As senior director of client strategy at Merkle, Eve brings extensive knowledge and practice with integrated strategy, omnichannel fundraising and marketing, and program innovation. She specializes in both scaling up already-successful fundraising programs to raise more funds and crafting new programs that leverage peer-to-peer fundraising and social giving to bring in new revenue.
At Merkle, her clients have included major national health charities, international relief and faith-based organizations and animal welfare nonprofits, among others. Before joining Merkle, Eve was lead consultant to national cause-based nonprofits and worked with leading nonprofits and foundations to advance their online marketing and fundraising programs.