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Ensuring good corporate governance in times of crisis

How we manage crisis has changed dramatically in recent years. With shrinking newsrooms and 24/7 news cycles, reporters are under intense pressure to quickly create click-worthy stories. Audiences are consuming more content than ever before and getting their news brief through their social media feed.

We are also entering into an era of citizen journalism, where anyone with a smartphone can become a publisher. Increased polarization on issues is being fueled by social activism, creating communities of like-minded individuals. Ease of access to information and lack of trust due to #fakenews have resulted in audiences that expect to hear directly from organizations in an open, transparent, and timely manner.

No matter the organization, good planning and effective corporate governance are key to crisis management. More than ever, audiences expect access to timely information. This is true of any organization, including not-for-profits.

So, when crisis strikes, what happens? How can organizations move quickly to manage reputational threats?

On behalf of NATIONAL Atlantic, I was invited to speak on an expert panel with The Institute for Corporate Directors on this very subject.

Joined by legal counsel Grant Machum, Partner at Stewart McKelvey, we flagged the importance of crisis management and risk mitigation for officers and directors of not-for-profit organizations. During the session, we provided an overview of managing crisis through effective stakeholder relations and social media engagement, as well as best practices in risk mitigation to help prevent a crisis from occurring.

Here are a few of our key points:

Reputation management is everything

Most often, it’s not the issue or crisis that will determine the outcome, but how an organization handles it. Crises can start as issues or incidents that were not effectively contained or addressed because they were not anticipated, recognized, or managed. How an organization manages a crisis can define an organization’s reputation internally and across many stakeholders. As part of good governance, understanding what a crisis looks like for an organization is the first step in crisis identification and planning.

Your stakeholders expect effective crisis management

With so many sources of information, it is critical that an organization establishes itself as the primary source of information during a crisis. Setting expectations about responsiveness and how often you will be communicating during a crisis can help manage the flow of information. At its most basic, your crisis communications should tell what happened, explain what is being done, and express how you feel.

Social media in times of crisis

If social media isn’t part of your crisis plan, it should be. Active social listening and monitoring social media conversations is a great way to determine if an incident is escalating into a crisis that needs to be managed. Rather than engaging with every social post, we recommend establishing a single source of information like a landing page on your website and drive the masses to it. It’s important that you identify which social media channels you will use to drive audiences to your website. Be sure to acknowledge the incident in a timely manner and provide on-going updates. Continuous monitoring, and understanding key narratives and conversation themes will inform how your team handles a crisis.

Mitigating legal risks

If you are concerned about legal risks, engaging with expert counsel is always your best bet. At a minimum, board directors and officers should be aware of their duties and standards that arise from common law and statutes, and to be aware of your obligations. To mitigate risk, ensure you have established procedures and a process to review compliance, seek advice from experts, keep accurate records, and be sure to ask questions.

Effective crisis planning and risk mitigation are essential to good corporate governance. Have questions about your responsibilities as a board director? NATIONAL has a network of expert crisis communicators in Canada and around the world that would love to discuss your crisis and risk mitigation plan.