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Emergency Response | Communicating for the Greater Good During a Crisis

Ashley Fontaine profile image

Ashley Fontaine

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Even if your organization's mission is not directly related to healthcare, nearly all of us have a role to play in helping the communities we serve get through something major, like what we're all currently going through as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic. 

Yes, people need to have their basic needs met—food, water, shelter, health care. But we have other important needs, too—the need for social connection, for clear information, for managing stress, anxiety, and overall mental wellness during circumstances most of us have never had to navigate before. 

COVID-19 is a worldwide challenge, and we’re in this together. Here are a few ways your nonprofit can use their communication tools for good, right now:

Be present and stay tuned in

Conditions are changing so rapidly, it can be overwhelming to keep up with the news, especially local news. And when information and circumstances are changing quickly, many folks turn to social media for updates. As a result, you may find that your organization is spending more time than usual tending to social media spaces. It’s important that you don’t go silent; stay connected to news sources as the situation continues to develop, and reserve space online (where you can) for you community and beneficiaries to interact. 

This can be as simple as an occasional social media post asking how people are doing. When people comment and share their experiences, be sure to interact and comment back. Your communication tools represent an organization, but at the end of the day our organizations are made up of people and your voice can be one of comfort, authority, and strength to members of your community who have been hit hard by the current crisis.

Only share information from reputable sources

It’s important to only share information from reputable sources and not spread misinformation (even inadvertently). Some trusted sources for health-related information include: the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), your local department of health or public health office, local government officials. 

It’s always a good idea to look for a second, well-respected source of information to confirm that what you are sharing is accurate, especially when information is changing at lightning speed and recommendations and response times vary widely between government agencies and health organizations. You may use this opportunity to help signal-boost relevant and timely updates like press conferences from public health leaders. This may also be a good time to begin lobbying your local government for action if you feel they aren’t reacting to the crisis in a timely, efficient manner. 

Be an information translator

Every community has specific needs and culturally-influenced forms of communication. While heath care may not be your primary mission focus, you know the communities you serve like no one else. What do they need to hear right now? How does information need to be adapted in tone, delivery mode, or language for so that they can best understand and utilize it?

One Seattle-area man, Yadesa Bojia, was concerned after realizing that other Amharic-speaking people in the local Ethiopian American community had no access to accurate, science-based information about coronavirus. With information from the CDC in hand, he started a Facebook Live video of himself sharing information and guidance in Amharic. What he did wasn’t a professionally created video that took days or weeks to make. He used the tools he had at hand, and his video has been viewed more than 2,000 times—his quick thinking has allowed him to get accurate information to his community in a way that they can use and absorb it.

If you see a gap, speak up

Many of us serve communities who have traditionally been overlooked or left out of important conversations, and that goes double during times of crisis. If you see decisions being made that do not include your community members, use your organizational position to make the issue as visible as possible. 

For example, many localities are making emergency changes to their unemployment insurance rules to help cover people who are out of work due to the COVID-19 outbreak. If you work with a population who is likely to be self-employed or otherwise not covered by unemployment benefits, you might speak up about this oversight via your social media platforms. On the flip side, if you serve folks who could immediately benefit from the changes, signal-boost it!

Maintain (at least some) normalcy, and hope

No one is living under a rock, so we don’t need to keep our social media and other tools tuned in to COVID-19 all day, every day. Consider that other aspects of our lives still exist, and the world will go on when the pandemic is over. If you have personal stories of hope, resilience, and success related to your mission—everyone needs to hear those messages, too. Try to keep some pieces of your communication schedule and content “normal”.

Remember the modifications you made when the pandemic ends

Did you make presentations available online, livestream what otherwise would have been an in-person event, or move meetings to video conferencing when you haven’t before? Many people in the disability community have rightfully pointed out how easy it seemed for things to be moved online when it became mandatory for all of us, and not directly related to accessibility. This moment presents our society and our organizations with learning opportunities for how we can do our work different and better in the future.


If you’re looking for more resources, check out Communicating in a Time of COVID-19, offered for free by the Public Relations Society of America. 

Ashley Fontaine profile image

Ashley Fontaine

Ashley Fontaine is a writer, mental health professional, and former nonprofit executive director. She’s on a mission to eliminate “we’ve always done it that way” from our collective vocabulary by helping leaders focus on possibilities rather than limitations. She believes organizational culture is the key to productivity and staff retention.

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