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  • Otto Reinisch

How Nonprofit Leaders Build Trust in Times of Crisis

Updated: Mar 29, 2020

Crises come in many forms. Pandemics. Market corrections. Terrorism. Natural disasters. Each one unsettles us, making us question the future.

In the midst of uncertainty, here are three ways nonprofit leaders can become a reassuring ‘voice’ that earns the trust of their constituents by offering the one thing we all need…hope.

1. Leaders listen

The communication channels available for leaders during a crisis are nearly endless. Email. Facebook. Twitter. WhatsApp. YouTube. Instagram. Zoom. Telephone. Etc. They allow you to connect with constituents using words, photographs, video, and by providing them access to resources. In times of crisis, however, use them liberally to engage with constituents, creating valuable opportunities for them to respond.

Invite feedback. Include “Contact Us” reply buttons in your email or encourage Facebook users to comment on posts. And, when someone does respond…promptly return the favor. Show them you're listening!

2. Leaders demonstrate empathy

Your goal in times of crisis is to offer hope. Contrary to YouTube's "broadcast yourself" advice, crisis is not a time for self-promotion. Earn trust as a leader through empathy that begins by making your communications ‘other-focused’. Make it about them. Make them the hero of your next story instead of your organization or, worse yet, you.

Consider this opening for an email message…

“I’m writing to simply 'check in' with you during these difficult days and to encourage you by sharing just one example of how you're making a difference in the lives of others. I’ve heard from many friends and am deeply moved by their stories about how our work - the work you help make possible - is turning despair to hope. Here's one story that especially touched me. I think you’ll like it too.”

Show your constituents you're listening. Acknowledge them. Invite their feedback. Encourage them to share their stories.

3. Leaders are optimistic.

Hope is the essence of leadership. It is how effective leaders help followers move from their current reality to where they hope to be.

Then president-elect Barack Obama, facing a bleak financial crisis, said “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” And, it was FDR who encouraged a nation with the words, “We have nothing to fear, but fear itself.”

Confidence – not despair – is at the heart of every compelling vision. A reassuring sense of optimism should be the litmus test for your communication in times of crisis.

Again, consider this closing to the same email…

“Thank you for all you mean to me personally and to this organization. I share your sense of uncertainty about today but am grateful we are working together to create a better tomorrow. As we’ve overcome other challenges over the years, I know we will prevail again with the faithful support of friends, like you.”

Listen. Demonstrate empathy. Be optimistic.

Your confident, reassuring voice will set you apart from the crowd as others clamor to secure their own welfare. Together, these actions will help earn your constituents’ trust long after the crisis ends.

There’s much more to be said about leading in times of crisis but, for now, I hope these strategies encourage you in your work of encouraging others. If you have questions or if there’s any way I can help, please write to me at otto@whywegive.net

Thank you for all you do. Be strong. Keep the faith.

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