For the California-based non-profit Love Ride Foundation, last month’s headline in the LA Times could hardly have been more devastating: “Motorcycle accidents cast gray clouds over Love Ride event.”
Love Ride, the paper said “was raising money for Autism Speaks, an organization dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and cure for autism” when a motorcycle collided with a semi-truck, leaving two bikers dead at the scene.
Making the tragedy even more bizarre, celebrity host Jay Leno had just moments earlier opened the event with this joke to the crowd: “I’m gonna say, ‘Don’t drive safe.’ I wanna see somebody go down. So it’ll be fun. I want it to be in front or behind me and see a whole row of bikes go down. ... Get drunk, fall off the road. We’ve all become too damn polite. ... We haven’t had one incident.”
Could it happen to you?
Fatalities are thankfully rare, but these kinds of unexpected occurrences are not that uncommon at non-profit events. Just this summer I wrote about problems at the inaugural “Rock ‘n Sole” half-marathon and 10 kilometer foot race that was part of Milwaukee’s Summerfest celebration. The weather was oppressively hot and there wasn’t enough water in the right places on the race course. More than twenty participants ended up in hospitals, and many others received medical attention at the scene before the event was cancelled due to a “weather emergency.”
The race organizer’s first comments to local news reporters were, in a word, disastrous. He failed to express concern about the victims, didn’t apologize, and didn’t take responsibility for the screw up with the water. Hours later he issued a statement that fixed those deficiencies, but his initial mishandling made a bad situation much worse in a very public way.
Non-profit communication challenges
Therein lies a serious problem for non-profits: often, they’re just not prepared to handle the news media when they show up to do a fluffy feature about their organization, much less when an unexpected crisis erupts.
And media interviews aren’t the only communication challenge non-profits face. I wrote recently about a presentation the executive director of a non-profit gave to a roomful of other non-profit organizers – nearly all of them potential buyers of the innovative collaboration software the speaker talked about. Unfortunately, his presentation was so weak I doubt that anyone remembered much of what he said (except, of course, the part about almost killing himself – you’ll have to read the blog to understand why it was memorable).
Free communication skills coaching
Because we’ve worked with non-profit executives and staffs, we know that developing their media interviewing and presentation skills can really help them communicate their messages more effectively and achieve their goals. Unfortunately, they don’t always have the know-how or resources to do that.
That’s why, beginning in 2012, we’re going to give away free seminars to non-profit organizations in a couple of different ways. Learn more.
We can’t do this for every non-profit that needs or deserves help (we still have mortgages to pay and there are so many deserving organizations out there!), but we hope to make a dent by helping some worthy organizations be more successful at doing the important and inspiring work they do – and help some companies support the non-profits they care about.
If you know of a non-profit or company that might be interested, please help us pass the word. Thanks!