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John Baldwin

Mentor Department



By classifying the COVID-19 pandemic as a victim crisis that effects all organizations, this study explores the crisis response of local nonprofit organizations in a small midwestern town and finds that these organizations have held a greater focus on priorities other than reputation repair and maintenance during the COVID-19 pandemic. When an organization faces a crisis — any phenomenon that challenges their reputation — their response is important to repair or maintain that reputation and thus their ability to profit, operate, or survive. Existing literature provides strategies for responding to a crisis based on its severity, attribution of responsibility, and an organization’s past reputation. However, the COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis unlike many organizations have faced before, given its global reach and associated health and safety guidelines that have regularly changed and often led to an organization’s inability to engage with stakeholders in-person. The COVID-19 pandemic is also different than many crises given its classification as a victim crisis — a particular type of crisis for which an organization is not directly responsible. That is, in this study, organizations were not directly responsible for causing the pandemic. In preparation for crises, organizations often proactively develop crisis response plans. However, no one could have predicted the COVID-19 pandemic. And literature suggests that, even when plans are in place, organizations may not always follow them in the moment. Plausibly, this would especially be the case during a crisis never faced before. Findings from a constant comparative analysis of eight semi-structured interviews with leaders of local nonprofit organizations suggest that these organizations have held a greater focus on informing, engaging, reflecting on, and collaborating with stakeholders and other organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic rather than reputation repair or maintenance. In turn, local leaders consider the outcomes of their responses to be successful overall. The implications of this study include useful suggestions for future crisis response planning — for example, for organizations to establish multiple channels of communication with their stakeholders and foster inter-organizational relationships.

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