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If your nonprofit is taking a step back from the news cycle, there are plenty of seriously useful things you can be doing right now that will advance your cause later. 

To get you started and keep you productive, here’s a communications downtime to-do-list of projects that our team and nonprofit partners are working on this month.

Prep your in-case-you-need-them talking points.

Even if you decided that now isn’t the time for your nonprofit to be in the press, that doesn’t mean the press won’t come to you anyway. To avoid being caught off guard, it’s important to prepare your COVID-19 talking points. Consider what you are and aren’t comfortable commenting on, and think about how you can champion your cause and the people (or animals or spaces) you serve at this moment. 

Update your crisis communications rapid response protocol.

Even if this isn’t an “all hands on deck” moment for your nonprofit, it’s valuable to get yourself prepared for the next time one rolls around. It’s crucial to know what success looks like and have a plan to get there so everyone knows their roles and can hit the ground running. If you’re not sure where to start, check out our crisis communications checklist for COVID-19.

Update your media lists. (Always.)

Media lists are crucial to successful communications. They should be living documents, but too often they fall to the bottom of your to-do list when you’re moving at a million miles per minute and trying to keep ahead of the news cycle. If you find yourself with some spare time, spend it updating and expanding your media lists. One exercise we like to do when time’s on our side is update the wishlist tab of our media lists with 5-6 reporters whose work we admire and most want to cover our topic. 

While you’re updating your media lists, don’t forget to refresh your Twitter lists too. This is a great way to track what reporters are interested in and even catch breaking news before it hits the press. (Bonus—reporters like the kudos and alerts they get when you add them to your public list.)

Prepare “evergreen” media materials for the future.

Now is the time to start working on all the media materials that aren’t attached to a particular moment in time. In other words, what “evergreen,” or always fresh, compelling, and valuable materials can you share at any time of the year? Here are materials you could start making this week:

  • Editorial board memos: Draft editorial board memos on issues that hit at the core of your mission rather than on that piece of legislation Congress is likely to take up next session in favor of COVID-19 relief efforts. 
  • Op-eds: Do you have a compelling storyteller who is interested in sharing their experience? Is there an issue your organization will never stop calling for Congress to support? Now is a great time to put pen to paper while you’re taking a step back from the news cycle.
  • Press releases: What’s the press release you know you’ll need on hand six months from now? Go ahead and set up your template or refresh last year’s press releases for annual report releases that are taking place later this year or early next year.

Renew your messaging.

Message guides can be a bit of a paradox. They’re incredibly useful, which means they are constantly getting used, which means that they don’t get updated as often as they should because we are busy using them, which means they end up less useful than they should be because they haven’t been updated in a while. 

If you’ve been caught in that cycle, or just too busy with the day-to-day, now is the time to refresh your message guides.  

Some questions to ask once you open that Google Doc and stare at the blinking cursor:

  • What messages are your audiences engaging with the most on social media? Are those in your message guide?
  • Does your call to action align with your organization’s current goals? 
  • Are there new studies or stories that have emerged that help you make your case?
  • How are your peers now talking about the work they’re doing?
  • How are your opponents talking now about the issue, and do you need to add onto your rebuttal messaging?

Build out your story bank.

Most nonprofits work with brave and compelling storytellers whose words and experiences have the ability to change hearts, minds, and policies. While you’re not working around the clock to elevate their stories in the press, use that time to organize and expand your list of storytellers. 

This means creating an organized system that respects the privacy and individual experience of each storyteller, while allowing you to quickly reference who is and is not interested in speaking with the press. Beyond that, keep notes on what is most helpful for you and the storytellers, such as geographical region, contact information, or subject matter expertise. 

Don’t have personal storytellers or want to gather more people to join your cause? Turn to social media to expand your story bank. 

Maintain your reporter relationships.

Even if you’re not actively pitching reporters, they are doing essential work right now while also dealing with the same health and financial anxieties that keep so many people up at night. So if there’s a reporter you’re regularly in close contact with, they might appreciate you reaching out with a brief note or text or email to let them know you’re thinking about them and hoping they are safe and healthy. Or you liked their last story. Or here’s a recipe for that fluffy sweet dalgona coffee that everybody on Instagram’s been talking about and you finally tried and whoa.

Plan, brainstorm, and get creative.

Think about the big, innovative, off-beat communications work that you might not normally get a chance to focus on.

Here are some things worth getting ahead of and using your brain power on:

  • Moving offline events online and getting press attention on them
  • Preparing resources for upcoming fundraising cycles
  • Making communications plans to support reports launching later this year
  • 2020 election(s) scenario planning
  • Visibility stunts or events for when it’s safe to gather in groups 

There’s plenty here to keep things moving for your press shop. And if you want to spare a few minutes to figure out that sourdough starter? That’s fine, too. 


When Maria isn’t working to secure media hits for nonprofits, she likes to read, hike, and find new restaurants to try. For the time being, you’ll find her doing all of these things at home in Washington, D.C.—though hiking is the exception. Email her at 

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