Commenting On Current Events

Question from Email 366 subscriber:
“We have kept away from politics, wars and humanitarian efforts as we don’t feel it’s our place to comment. Do you have some thoughts about when it would be appropriate to touch on current events?”

This is a tough one. I have some comments.

1) As a rule, I tell clients and nonprofits not to comment publicly about issues related to sex, war, politics and religion unless one of those is their mission. A lot of times it can cause division, fights and nothing good can come from it.

2) I know there are nonprofits with a mission not tied to politics but nevertheless they take a very strong political stance. I’m not a fan.

If your goal is to impact everyone, then don’t alienate any possible donors! Let everyone help everyone.

Unless the organization understands upfront that a decent amount of people locally will not support them because of the organization’s political stance- and the organization’s leadership is fine with that.

3) Have you surveyed your audience and know that they’re interested in your organization’s take on current events? They might be, might not be. But before you dip into those waters, I’d wanna know if people care to hear your organization’s opinions or not.

4) When it comes to current events, does everyone in your organization have a similar stance? Not the best idea to be creating internal fights/dissension.

5) We’ll use the Russia-Ukraine war as an example: Let’s say the war is not related to your mission. Should you take a stand? How would your email subscribers and online followers react to your organization suddenly taking a stand on an issue you’ve never been vocal about? They may start to question why you haven’t taken a stand on social issue X, issue Y, issue Z etc. It can get ugly out there.

Can you pick and choose? You could. But be careful because when you are vocal about a specific topic, followers will be looking to see if you’re vocal about it under other circumstances. (You’ve taken a stance on the Russia-Ukraine war. Will you speak up if Russia invades a different country? What about China invading Taiwan- will you also take a stand or be quiet?)

And again, if you’re vocal about social or political topic X, some people will wonder why you haven’t publicly discussed topic Y and Z.

6) Is there pressure from the Board or donors to take a stand? If yes, why? Are they doing it for personal reasons?

I’m not a fan of donors applying pressure for potentially personal interests. It IS important to listen to donors and healthy, ongoing conversation is good. But there’s a broader picture that has to be taken into consideration.

7) Does your nonprofit know all the facts about certain current events taking place? Are you fully informed? Because if not and you put something out there publicly, that could boomerang in a really really bad way.

8) Look at the divisive state of politics today. Taking a stand and telling people to vote for X party or candidate Y can be divisive both internally and among your audience, subscribers, supporters and donors. Think very carefully before making any type of political statement.

Understatement coming: I’m not a fan of diving into issues related to politics, war, sex or religion.

When would it be appropriate:

On 9/11 it would be appropriate for your organization to post on social media a post about remembering those who were killed.

Memorial Day- remember the veterans who died so we have freedom.

Natural disaster (tornado, hurricane, wildfires etc.)- share empathy with those affected and if you can, share vital info (where they can seek shelter, contact info for emergency services and local NPOs helping out on the ground)

Those are certainly appropriate as long as the post/email is worded correctly.

I am well aware that there are others out there who would say take a strong stance on social issues, current events etc. That nonprofits should be at the forefront. Maybe so.

But then I might expect you to be publicly vocal about all social issues. If not, people will wonder why this yes but this no. And of course taking a side on what you think is “the right side” may not be the actual right side. Now instead of focusing on your mission and work, you’re dealing with negative comments and negative feedback.

To summarize: I’m not a fan unless you’ve been publicly commenting all along or you’re committed going forward to take a stance on all kinds of societal issues. That of course means you’re fully informed before taking a stance and you’re ready to deal with any blowback you get.

Is your organization looking to improve your email program? Let’s talk about it! I offer monthly calls to discuss email issues you’re facing and how not only to overcome them but how to use email to help your organization grow.