How Nonprofit Health Organizations Should Respond to COVID-19

Over the last few weeks, the coronavirus has disrupted our clients’ day-to-day operations and programs in a way that is unprecedented. While it has wreaked havoc particularly for our clients that host in-person fundraising events, COVID-19 has emerged as an opportunity for health organizations to serve their communities like never before.

People who are living with chronic conditions, especially those with suppressed immune systems, are understandably anxious. They are worried about what COVID-19 means for them and what they should do to protect themselves. They’re seeking information, resources, and a sense of community — and they’re turning to the Internet.

In this post, we’ll share a simple approach to how your patient organization can meet your community’s needs during this public health crisis. In doing so, you will build deeper relationships with your community, increase loyalty to your organization, showcase your organization’s capabilities, and grow your organization’s influence.


Step 1: Designate A COVID-19 Response Team


News about the coronavirus is changing every day. With news outlets and governments rapidly releasing new information and guidelines, it’s important that your organization designates a team that is responsible for overseeing all coronavirus-related content that goes out to your community. You don’t want a situation in which your advocacy team and research team send out emails that could’ve been consolidated or — worse — conflict with each other. That’s why it’s important that someone (or a small team) “owns” the process to ensure the end-user has the most seamless experience.

Another responsibility for your COVID-19 response team is to assess and prioritize opportunities. Is it more important to interview experts about the coronavirus, or is it more important to create virtual meetup events? Every organization has limited resources, and there should be key decision-makers responsible for determining how those resources are used.


Step 2: Produce At Least One Piece Of Content Addressing Your Community’s Health Condition And COVID-19


At a minimum, it’s important to produce at least one piece of content that directly addresses your community’s primary health condition as it relates to the coronavirus. Not taking the time to do this can negatively affect your reputation: You might come off as tone-deaf, and worst: Your community might go to a competitor to find the information and support that they expected from your organization. While this may not seem like a big deal, especially during a crisis, it can affect their loyalty — which can translate to a long-term impact on your fundraising, advocacy, and other program goals.

Take a look at some editorial content produced by Media Cause’s health clients:

There is another important reason to produce at least one piece of content about coronavirus: Your community is searching for it on Google. While keyword research tools like Google Keyword Planner and Moz are not reporting any search volume on coronavirus-related keywords, we have seen first-hand with our clients and based on our own research on Google that there is sizeable search volume for most chronic health conditions and coronavirus.

We recommend trying it yourself: Do a Google search for your organization’s focus disease + coronavirus. Are your competitors showing up on the first page of Google? If so, it’s time to get yourselves up there, next to them.


Step 3: Proactively Seek Out Your Community’s Concerns


Once you have your must-have information out the door, turn your attention to identifying your community’s additional concerns about coronavirus. There are a few ways to do that:

  • Leverage a third-party social media listening tool. Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, and of course the gold standard Crimson Hexagon, all allow you to see what patients are talking about as it relates to coronavirus.
  • Search natively on Facebook and Twitter. If you don’t have a third-party tool, no problem: Use Twitter Search and the search bar on Facebook to see public posts about your focus disease and coronavirus.
  • Join Facebook Groups. We’ve seen Facebook Groups for a lot of different health conditions, and patients are very open in these closed groups. It’s important that you respect the group’s rules and are honest about who you are when you join.
  • Reach out directly to your community. There is no better way to understand your community’s concerns than to ask them directly. Send a short survey via email and/or pose questions and polls on Facebook and Instagram Stories.
  • Set up Google Alerts for your focus disease + coronavirus. This can be a great way to identify important news even before the community knows about it.


Step 4: Take Stock Of What Your Organization Is Good At And Apply It to Your Community’s Needs


It can be overwhelming to hear about what your constituents are going through. Some may be dangerously at the poverty line, some could have lost their jobs, some could be rationing their medication. Your organization won’t be able to address all of their challenges, so it’s important to recognize what you can do (and do well). Once you know what you’re capable of doing, it’s then a matter of planning, executing, and communicating it with your community.

Here are some ideas from our clients, as well as organizations that we follow.


Produce New Programming Tailored to Your Audience

Our client CreakyJoints (part of the Global Healthy Living Foundation), for example, is an incredibly agile team with robust editorial, email, and tech capabilities. What’s realistic for them might be completely unrealistic for other organizations. Working with their editorial and tech teams, we created a content-driven patient support program from ideation to launch within three days!

Another great resource that CreakyJoints owns is its amazing Twitter presence and its highly active Twitter chat called #CreakyChats. The March #CreakyChats focused on the coronavirus and had a record-breaking performance.

Claire’s Place Foundation, which supports people living with cystic fibrosis, has developed a program to offer emergency funds that will cover costs of food insecurity, extensive medical and prescription drug co-pays.

Leukemia and Lymphoma Society has the capacity to put together advocacy actions very quickly, and they were able to launch an advocacy alert to activate their community support the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

While not all organizations can launch a whole new program in a matter of days or can offer money to patients, the approach is the same: Identify your organization’s strengths and leverage them during this outbreak.


Create Additional Content That Address Your Community’s Concerns

By now you should have a sense of what your community is most concerned about. Consider building out your content to address as many of their anxieties as possible.

CreakyJoints has done an incredible job of producing a wide range of editorial content around coronavirus, including expert advice, patient stories, and coronavirus prevention.

National Infusion Center Association put together a toolkit PDF to provide guidance to infusion centers on how to keep their staff and their patients safe.

American Heart Association created a 1-minute video on how to keep yourself and others safe.


Tap Into Your Organization’s Experts

Most patient organizations work closely with scientific advisers, healthcare professionals, and/or researchers. These experts are not folks that patients come into contact with every day, so it’s important that your organization understands how much of an asset they are. Here are a few ways to leverage them to meet your community’s needs:

      • Host a Facebook Live. Beyond Celiac hosted a Facebook Live with Ken Kilgore, their Chief Scientific Investment Officer. Parkinson’s Foundation also hosted a Facebook Live with their Medical Director and an infectious disease expert and even solicited questions from their community in advance using a Facebook Event.
      • Interview Your Experts. Not every expert wants to be on camera. CreakyJoints was able to work with many of their expert partners to answer patients’ most pressing questions in an article. National Eczema Association encourages its community to “Ask the Ecz-perts” in a recurring feature.


Prepare Responses for Inbound Questions

A lot of the recommendations we’ve provided above require quite a bit of work, and if your organization doesn’t have the capacity to do them, a smaller lift is simply ensuring you have resources that you can point your community to.

Identify your community’s most common questions, and find links to websites where they can get the answer. That can be as simple as preparing a Google doc of canned responses that you can refer to when your constituents write in on Facebook or email. By being responsive and pointing them to resources, your organization can still come off as relevant and reliable, and that’s especially important during a crisis.

This approach to coronavirus response is the same approach we take on all of our work and clients: Identify the audience, understand their needs, and produce something that effectively addresses those needs. If you have questions or feedback, or would like to see how Media Cause can help your health organization, please contact us.


We’re here to help.

We know these are unprecedented times, and Media Cause is offering free office hours to any nonprofit that would like to brainstorm ways to create a positive impact during coronavirus. If your health organization is interested in the approach above, or would like to brainstorm other creative ways to support your community, please don’t hesitate to sign up for office hours with us.


Related Posts