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Crisis Management – Dealing with Community Complaints

ASPCA, National Shelter Outreach

Crisis Management: Dealing with
Community Complaints


Proactive management is the best solution to crisis control. Pay attention to operations in advance. Listen to what the staff, volunteers, and the public are saying about your agency.

Know your audience and the politics of the situation. Be alert to indicators. Listen to everyone. Don’t discount detractors.

Be on good terms with the media. Develop relationships with your media contacts. They may tell you when a “situation” is brewing in advance of publication. They may let you respond to a letter to the editor at the same time it is published. At the very least they will give you the opportunity to respond and present your side of the story fairly when a crisis does occur. Issue a written statement if necessary — this guarantees precise language and reduces mis-quoting or statements out of context. Be wary of “off the record” comments.

You should not necessarily respond to all complaints. Some articles or letters to the editor to not deserve a response. A response may only fuel the fire.

If you choose to respond — do not delay. Time is of the essence. A late reply has little or no value and may not even be printed.

Don’t respond without knowing your facts.

Be truthful — your long-term credibility depends on it. Answer questions as openly as possible. Try to avoid no comment — it looks like you have something to hide (better to say, we can’t discuss that issue now because it is a matter of litigation). Never lie, sometimes you don’t tell but never lie.

Keep cool. Don’t take things personally.

Know when to take the offensive and when to craft a defensive strategy.

Choose the appropriate spokesperson for the circumstances.

If you have a crisis — contain it. Determine if there is indeed a crisis and if so define the problem in detail. Determine what you need to do to resolve the crisis — an in-depth study, a re-evaluation of policies or procedures, personnel re-evaluation, more personnel, or new equipment, etc.

Anticipate and resolve whenever possible. Remember a crisis is often an opportunity for improvement.

Adapted from The Michigan Humane Society “General Principles Dealing with Community Complaints”

© 2001 ASPCA


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