This is one of a series of posts providing help to churches and small non-profits cope with the impact of  Covid-19 on their operations, image and reputation. More information can be found in an online video certificate course I prepared for Plan to Protect ( It\’s an organization providing training and resources for churches and organizations that deal with vulnerable people.
As we struggle through the Covid-19 crisis, there are lessons to be learned whether you operate a major corporation or ministry or a local church, school or mission.
Simply put, how you deal with the present will determine how others deal with you in the future.
It has been interesting to watch major brands work their way through this crisis. How they respond teaches us all lessons of how, and how not, to do it.
I see lots of ads and PSA’s thanking everyone from medical staff to truck drivers to grocery store clerks for serving us and helping us. That’s good. And certainly well deserved. One fast food chain has its spokesperson somberly and trying to do so seriously. Other brands are pumping out positive messages along the line of “we’ll get through this if we work together.” Still others brag about how they are sanitizing everything and anything.
But the brands that are beginning to stand out are those that do more than talk and posture. They are actually doing something tangible and meeting people where they have needs. Tim Hortons (which has taken some PR hits over the past few years) has very quietly been sending out vans loaded with free coffee and goodies to local hospitals to help ER and ICU staff get a small break from the intensity of their days. A number of major hotel chains—particularly those with facilities close to hospitals—are offering hospital and medical staff free rooms, realizing that those people cannot go home for fear of infecting their families and loved ones. Sunwing Airlines (another brand that has a poor reputation) offered all its unused inflight meals to local food banks and shelters after their operations were shut down. Loblaws raised wages for both store staff, shippers and stockroom staff. Normally they are all minimum wage employees. Ford is relieving payments for three months and giving another three months on top for anyone having financial difficulties and struggling to meet car payments. Even the maligned telecoms have eliminated data overage charges during the crisis.
All of these had one thread in common: they not only expressed thanks and care, they acted on it.
Part of crisis management is learning from an existing crisis and then applying the lessons learned to future actions. The goal is to create or reinforce an organization’s reputation so that it mitigates the negative impact of any future situation.
The question is, what are you doing in response to Covid 19? How are you being perceived by the people around you and the people watching you? In the online video training I did for Plan to Protect, I talked about this post-crisis situation and how it really should be a pre-crisis mentality. My reporter friend Dan Brown of the London Free Press said it succinctly. “If you are only calling me after the crisis to cover you, or if your first contact with me is in the middle of the crisis, you have done yourself no good whatsoever.” As I said in that module, people are carefully weighing your words against your actions; they want to know if your deeds reflect your values. If they do, you will gain strong support. If not, you will be scorned and ignored.
Your response in crisis is critical. Pun intended!
If you are just expressing concern and doing online contact with your people that’s good, but not enough. No matter if you are a denomination, a local church (large or small), a school, a camp, a multi-site operation or a small local mission, you need to act.
Some churches are stepping up efforts to work with homeless or vulnerable people, from providing food supplies to buying or creating masks and other sanitary supplies. Congregation members order food online from local groceries for pickup at the store; it is then delivered to the receiving agency. Others are providing assistance and materials directly to front-line hospital workers or their families, checking in with them, providing support and encouragement as well as necessary supplies.
Letting the local community know and enlisting their help as well sets a deep impression into the community psyche. Is there equipment, are there facilities or supplies you could donate to front line services? How can you provide practical help no matter what kind of organization you represent?
People also watch carefully how you treat your employees as well as your members, clients or adherents. They find out directly from the employee or the families how well or how poorly you treated them in the crisis. And the people remember. We may be a wired society, but the gossip lines are still potent. It’s just that they are more likely to appear on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets. And when we’re allowed to gather again, the tongues will wag.
Financier Warren Buffet said that it can take an organization 20 years to build a reputation, but it can be destroyed in 20 minutes.
What kind of an image do you have now and what kind of reputation do you want to have when the world gets righted? Are people going to feel good about you or will they be turned off.
Even as this crisis continues, you have choices to make. Good leadership is all about not just handling the present, but projecting into the future and setting things in place to lead your group into a stronger position where you are better accepted by the community and having a stronger impact upon it than you did before.
Be that kind of leader!

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