Religion communicators trained for crisis scenarios

By Patrick Horn

Katherine Kerr leads the workshop on crisis communications

Photo by George Conklin

CHICAGO (April 1, 2017) — Katherine Kerr, a self-described “recovering journalist” and co-founder of Polaris Non-Profit Solutions LLC, offered a strategy for crisis communications in a workshop held during the annual convention of the Religion Communicators Council.

“A crisis is anything that threatens the operations or the reputation of an organization,” said Kerr, who gave examples of crises ranging from illegal activities to vandalism, arson, assaults, murder and natural disasters.

Warning that the question of crisis is not “if” but “when,” Kerr offered a six-step communication plan that begins with assembling a response team, gathering information, developing talking points, designating a spokesperson, engaging with stakeholders and sharing information.

The first step is assigning roles and responsibilities to the appropriate team members. Next, required information includes knowing who is involved and impacted, what happened and who bears responsibility, when the crisis happened and when informed, where the crisis happened, why it happened, how it happened, and whether it could have been prevented.

This data is developed into three key talking points with a timeline for updates. The spokesperson should know how to interact with media, practice the talking points, and if necessary, express condolences, concern and cooperation. A consistent message is essential, as is prioritizing updates to internal and external stakeholders using the best channels for dissemination.

Kerr gave a demonstration of crisis communications using an example of a religious leader arrested for sexual misconduct. The participants then divided into small groups and practiced the new skills using scenarios including youth missionaries injured in a car crash, food poisoning in a senior program, and inappropriate use of church facilities.

“Be human and humane,” Kerr concluded.

Workshop presentation slides

Workshop handout

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