Whether it’s COVID-19, a different public health issue, facility closure, natural disaster or other emergencies, your nonprofit’s website should serve as a go-to hub for information about your organization’s response, related resources and ongoing updates. Does your crisis communication plan fully leverage all that your website has to offer?

Learn how to put your website to work during a crisis to spread the word and keep your community connected—no matter the challenge at hand. We’ve found some great examples from nonprofits of all types that you can use as inspiration for your planning efforts.

Crisis Communication Plan Basics

For many nonprofits, the COVID-19 pandemic is the first time that they find themselves implementing a crisis communication plan, or wishing they had one. The first rule of any crisis communication or management plan is to have it ready before you actually need it.

No matter your mission or the problem at hand, the idea is to dictate a response that is timely, comprehensive and ensures the safety of your organization and the people or places you serve. And when it comes to marketing and communications, be sure to stay focused on your brand and a few key goals:

  • Flexibility, making sure that your plan can adapt based on the situation as well as who you need to reach and the best way of doing so
  • Accuracy, ensuring that the messages you share are correct and up-to-date to the best of your ability and the most reliable information available
  • Transparency, being honest about your organization’s response and taking responsibility when needed to assure your audiences that you’re taking appropriate action
  • Urgency, meaning that you’re working to provide updates as quickly as possible plus communicating pressing needs and actions to your audiences.

Are you surprised that “urgency” is last on the list? It’s not because it’s the least important, but rather because it can put all of the other goals at risk if you’re not careful. As we’ve seen with coronavirus, it can be very tempting to make immediate changes to your website or blast out an email. But having an actual plan to follow slows things down and keeps your organization on track when it comes to developing communications in your audiences’ best interests.

For more on the process of making a crisis communication plan and what it should include, check out these resources:

Ways to Leverage Your Website During a Crisis

Your website is an essential tool for a plan that needs flexibility, accuracy, transparency and urgency. It’s invaluable when it comes to reaching a wide audience, though you’ll need to consider people’s access to computers, electricity and the internet in every situation. (This is in addition to considering each of your target audience personas and how they will best get the message.)

But overall, your website offers a big advantage when it comes to crisis communications: it’s a single place to publish important information and then distribute it far and wide, like on social media, email and even text message campaigns.

To see how real nonprofits use their websites during a crisis, and get ideas for how to implement changes on our own site, we’ve put together a list of tips and examples to consider for your crisis communication plan. For additional resources and examples specific to coronavirus/COVID-19, check out our recent roundup post

Display an Alert Bar

Adding a full-width alert or announcement bar across the top or bottom of your web pages is a common tactic that’s hard for visitors to miss. If your website doesn’t have this functionality already built-in, you could consider using a type of pop-up (more on that below) to mimic this style. We typically recommend the OptinMonster floating bar to our clients.

Add a Homepage Announcement

Putting a front-and-center announcement on your homepage makes a ton of sense since it’s usually the highest-trafficked page on your site and will reach a lot of your visitors. Opt to put it close to the top of your page if you can, and be sure to direct people to a page(s) where they can find more in-depth information.

Make Blog Post Statements

Even if you plan to put together a standalone page eventually, your blog can play a critical role in a crisis communication plan. The very nature of a blog makes it ideal for ongoing updates in chronological order that people can easily follow. Plus, a blog post can take many formats (letter, video, press release, fact sheet) and is easily linked to from elsewhere on your site in addition to sharing on other online channels.

Run a Pop-up Window

Similar to an alert bar, a pop-up window serves as an attention-grabbing call-to-action that can direct people to a helpful resource, online form, fundraising campaign or another type of request. Depending on the crisis at hand, you could choose to strategically display the pop-up based on a number of specific rules, like based on the page that a visitor is on or their geographic location.

Update Your Press Room & Media Kit

Are you ready if a journalist comes calling? Managing media inquiries during a crisis can seem extra stressful, so getting your press room and media kit ready can help divert the press to helpful information while you focus on other priorities. Offering some simple boilerplate language about your organization, backgrounds on key spokespeople, recent press releases (or blog posts) and a form to contact you would be a great start.

Update Volunteer Opportunities

Depending on the crisis, your nonprofit might need to dramatically change (even shutdown) your volunteer program. Or you could be in desperate need of more helpers. If you’re using your website to recruit volunteers or would like to start, don’t forget to keep this information up to date so that people can find what they need without clogging up your phones and email with inquiries.

Publish a Resource Landing Page

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen nonprofits across the sector stepping up to create web pages with valuable resources for their supporters and constituents. You’ll want to follow some basic best practices for landing pages, but generally, this offers a very flexible format that’s easy to update and share widely. Don’t forget about adding it to your site’s navigation menu and adding links to it from related pages and digital communications.

Create a Campaign Page 

Some emergencies could mean that your nonprofit is in need of critical supplies or funding to carry out your mission and address unforeseen challenges. Rather than trying to rework your normal online donation process, creating a campaign-specific page related to the crisis can keep your message crisp and design on-point. Adding a custom form that’s specific to the crisis can also help build trust with potential donors, reassuring them that their gift will be applied to the greatest need.

How Not To Use Your Website

Realistically, not everything in your crisis communication plan will go perfectly. (Remember: try to be flexible!) But there are some ways of using your website that will limit the effectiveness and reach of your message. With accessibility and user-friendly experiences in mind, please avoid these common mistakes:

  • Putting your announcement or linking to a landing page in a carousel on your homepage. It’s easy to miss and studies show that visitors tend to tune them out.
  • Creating a landing page no one can find because it’s not included in your website’s navigation and not clearly linked on other important pages on your site.
  • Adding your announcements or statements to the website (or in an email or on social media, for that matter) in a PDF or a screenshot.
  • Forgetting to review your website updates on mobile devices to ensure that everything displays correctly and works the way you intended.

One more thing before I wrap this up: your website is a valuable tool, but it’s not immune in an emergency either. Just like you should have a crisis communication plan ready before there’s a crisis, your nonprofit’s website needs to be maintained over time and you should have a point person who knows the ins and outs so that you can implement your plan when needed. Now is the best time to start documenting how your site works so that you are comfortable relying on it in a crisis.

How else have you seen nonprofits leverage their websites in a crisis? Any other tips for using digital marketing in a crisis communication plan? Looking forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments.