Communications in the midst of COVID-19: Five things leaders and organizations can do now

In the midst of this pandemic, the survival of our organizations and the people we serve is at stake. At Change Consulting, our goal has always been to support changemakers in caring for our communities and reimagining a brighter world into existence. Now, the need for social change leaders and organizations to communicate effectively has never been greater. With that in mind, here are five things organizations and leaders can focus on now to communicate strategically in the midst of COVID-19.

Communicate often -- and with authenticity and inquiry. Bold, direct, and authentic communication is more important now than ever. We don’t have to pretend we have all the answers. We can instead, “grapple out loud,” as my colleague Anna Ghosh puts it, as a way to model humble leadership by sharing our questions and struggles in a public way. In times like these, it's the questions we ask that will lead us to getting to the truth and finding answers and solutions together. How are your constituents being impacted? In what ways are you or your organization responding to mitigate the harm that communities are facing? What needs are you seeing? What are the solutions and demands you want to call for? If there is ever a moment to be authentic, with each other, with our team and partners, with the people we serve, this is it. In other words, we can be human.

Put strategy first. In moments like this, it can be easy to just dive into doing and throw strategy out the window. Let’s face it--we were already doing too much with too little before the pandemic hit. But taking a step back--even for just a minute--and thinking about the greater “why” and “to what end” of our activities is the best antidote we have for maximizing our finite and precious capacity and resources. Before launching into any communications effort, ask yourself and your team, what are our goals for communicating? What does success actually look like? (Hint: It’s not raising awareness). Who do we need to take action, what  do we need to say to persuade them, and what are the best ways to reach them? This probably isn’t the moment for creating years-long strategic communications plans, but any time spent thinking through the month or quarter ahead will be time well spent. We will be sharing ways to put strategies first in a future blog post.

Tell stories. Nothing is more powerful and moving than a compelling story, especially now as we are all feeling the ways that we are globally interconnected, and we’re all craving human contact. Stories can activate empathy and action, helping to stimulate neurological centers that help us intuit other people’s thoughts and feelings. Stories can bring us together and foster cooperation, allowing us to see the ways our lives are similar to each other and encouraging us to work together. Stories can also draw your audiences into the work in ways that nothing else will, allowing you to show the challenges our communities are facing, and the actions needed to stop the harm. Your organization can tell stories to highlight all the ways that the people you serve are being impacted in this pandemic. We will share more about storytelling best practices in a future post.

Expand your digital reach. As the saying goes, the best time to start was yesterday. The next best time is now. Over the past few weeks, more of us have realized something that has been true for quite some time--it is a digital-first world, now. It has long been critical for organizations to communicate and organize online. But the nonprofit sector has been slow to catch up to reality. No longer. The past three weeks have been a crash course in digital and tech tools, and online activity has soared. If your nonprofit has not prioritized expanding your digital reach, start now; get your website in order, start building an email list, leverage your blog, and maximize your social media channels. And there’s also no better time to experiment than now--try new tools and actions, evaluate outcomes, iterate, repeat.

Last but not least, remember to breathe. By all accounts, this pandemic and its impact on our lives and livelihoods will be long-lasting. In other words, this will be a marathon, not a sprint, and we are going to need perseverance and strength. By remaining flexible and adaptable to what the day may bring, and by taking care of ourselves and each other, we have a fighting chance of not only weathering this storm, but reaching collective higher ground--together. 


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