A family medical issue so distracted me one day a few months ago that I failed to check my voice mail at the end of the day. The next day, I realized that, for the first time in 18 years, I failed to return a reporter’s phone call within a few hours. I felt terrible. I felt even worse when I realized my failure placed a volunteer in a challenging television news interview. He’s in law enforcement and conducted a great interview. But a volunteer shouldn’t have to face cameras or microphones after he was held up at gunpoint the previous night at his Boy Scout troop’s Christmas tree lot. Nonprofit organizations must serve their members and volunteers by providing communications support, and in some cases protection, during media coverage of a crisis.
Two other crisis communications opportunities dealing with child abuse came across my desk in the following weeks. One occurred in a neighboring council that shares the St. Louis metropolitan media market. When I contacted that council, a statement was ready for the media. However, the reporter was already on his way to conduct an interview in the home of the volunteer. The volunteer did his best to answer questions, but the video showed a clearly awkward situation. That interview ran during the 5 and 6 p.m. newscast. A reporter did a live remote report during the 10 p.m. newscast from the church where the Boy Scout troop regularly held its meetings.
The other communications crisis was in a small town in southeast Missouri. Thanks to the persistent work of a staff member, we were in constant contact with the leadership of a Scouting program whose top leader — a police officer — was charged on several counts of sodomy. The leaders were extremely thankful to learn they could defer all media inquiries to a council staff member. When organizations offer spokespersons, they are always at the mercy of editors. Your best block-and-bridge answers to difficult questions may never make the newscast. But organizations must be accessible to media in a crisis. Nonprofit organizations must think ahead and be proactive to protect and support volunteers and members when the media is covering a crisis.