Messaging in light of COVID-19

With COVID-19 details changing daily, if not hourly, the information contained in these posts may not reflect the most recent developments.

I hope you are doing well and that you are taking care of yourselves. The way your organizations are pivoting in these challenging times is truly impressive.

Some of you have been seeking advice from TREC on how to handle external messaging in light of COVID-19. Done appropriately, this is a great time for you to reach out to your donors, supporters, partners, and community members. Your supporters are looking to make connections and will appreciate an update on what is happening in your organization.

Each organization needs to make decisions about what is useful and appropriate to say right now, when the crisis is full-blown, while also watching for when things begin to shift back to normal, or to a new normal. Here are some things for you to consider.

Reference COVID-19 so that your message is relevant, not just business-as-usual. If you fail to mention COVID, you risk being perceived as out-of-touch. If something is urgent on the programmatic front, for example, a bill moving quickly through a legislative body, then it can be appropriate to send out an alert. Even in this case, though, respectfully reference COVID and the challenges people are facing, and communicate why you are reaching out about this time-sensitive issue. Give supporters a way to take action, keeping the ask for a contribution secondary. Many folks are looking for a way to be involved right now, so you might get a very favorable response.

Refrain from putting your programmatic work as a greater concern than the immediate public health. You risk coming off as uncaring, inappropriate, or self-serving. If you make any connection between your work and the pandemic, make it gentle and big picture, such as how your organization works to protect the natural world and the planet that we all depend on to survive. At a later time, you can consider talking about how this crisis showed us new ways to work together as an international community to make big changes in our lives, and making big shifts and working together is what will be needed to address issues like climate change.

It is too soon now to be talking about any silver-lining because the outbreak is still so devastating. Be especially careful not to point out that the pandemic may slow climate change or to share stories of nature and wildlife coming back. You risk communicating a narrative of nature over people and failing to recognize disparate impacts of COVID-19 on marginalized communities. We also discourage sharing additional gloom and doom on the environmental concerns or election concerns. Folks are tapped out on hearing about problems right now.

Please don’t promote travel to public lands, which brings further risk to remote communities who have inadequate medical services and community support. Images of nature and special places bring us solace and rejuvenation but don’t encourage in-person visits right now. Instead, encourage your supporters to follow protocols of sheltering-in-place.

Consider making your communications more heart, less head. This is a great time to show care and compassion for what everyone is going through. Thank your supporters, let them know you appreciate them, and that we’ll get through this together. Ask them how they are doing and how you can help. Let them know that the organization is supporting the community. If you can help connect your supporters to community resources, offer that service, but be careful not to promise more than you can deliver on that front. The exception to the more-heart-less-head approach is to make it clear that your organization relies on facts and science, for example, referring to guidelines issued by CDC and local health officials. We can play a role in amplifying the voices of scientists because, in these times, too often, factual information is filtered and questioned.

Let your values guide your communication. This is an opportunity to live into equity and inclusion values. Acknowledge that everyone’s life has been “turned upside down” and state that you stand with your vendors, partners, and members of our community. Point out that your organization denounces any and all racial discrimination, and in these times, that you are especially diligent around increased hatred and discrimination faced by those who identify as or are even perceived as Asian Americans or Asian Canadians. Also acknowledge that COVID has the greatest negative impact on members of our community with underlying medical conditions, mental health conditions, those who are less able-bodied, and those who entered this crisis bearing the burdens of historical trauma and systemic oppression.

Spend more time than usual giving folks the “inside view” — what you are doing as an employer, how things are shifting – not just your programmatic work. Share that your organization is doing its part by working at home and canceling events, not only to keep your team safe, and but also to reduce the community-spread. Your supporters will appreciate you for being a caring employer and community member.

Most importantly, don’t go silent. Reach out. Now is a time to build relationships and to demonstrate your values.

Thanks for all you do.

Background Image: American Rivers | Scott Bosse

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