Don’t Let a Smoldering Issue Turn Into a Full-Fledged Dumpster Fire

February 16, 2023

Picture this: You’re the president of the board at a non-profit community group. The phone rings on a Tuesday afternoon. Another board member mentions she just saw several comments under a post on Facebook that involve allegations of harassment of a volunteer by a staff member of their organization. It’s gaining traction – it was posted only an hour ago, but already has 57 comments and lots of angry face reactions. 

As the board members discuss it, they become increasingly worried – should they comment on the post? And if so, what do they say? 

Or do they ignore the post? Maybe it will just go away. 

Wait! Should they delete or hide the comments? Or will that just make it worse?

And then it occurs to them – what if the local news station calls? 

HELP! They don’t know what to do but know they need some assistance. Both board members are nervous and worried, suddenly feeling overwhelmed by the responsibilities of serving on a board. 

Gone are the days where an issue might smolder for a few days, giving an organization enough time to research the topic, develop a strategy and prepare a response, if needed. But with the immediacy of social media, issues can go from a thin tendril of smoke to full-on blaze within minutes or hours. Emotions run high, particularly the more sensitive the issue or allegation. 

But emotions cloud judgment and provoke hasty actions that add fuel to the fire instead of providing relief. 

What’s the best course of action in a scenario like this? 

First: Stop. Breathe. Don’t touch anything! Yes, it’s difficult not to defend colleagues or the organization itself, but until you have a plan in place, it’s better to do nothing. But you must act quickly. 

Next, quickly gather a small group of subject matter experts to identify as much as you know about the issue and discuss how much is at stake. What are the best, worst and likely outcomes?

Now it’s time to formulate a plan. Discuss potential actions with your group and weigh the benefits and risks of each of them. Get alignment on your actions and develop strategic messaging, determine who will be the face and voice of the issue, and then begin to execute. 

If you’re not sure where to start, Wixted & Company can help. We quickly get up to speed on the issue, ask the right questions, and provide counsel on what to do to defuse and mitigate the situation … we help you extinguish the fire

And just like the fire department, we take the emotional charge out of the issue even when emotions are running high. As third-party observers, we give objective interpretation of the threat level as well as your best course of action. Sometimes a small fire will extinguish itself if it’s not given oxygen. And sometimes it requires a fire truck and a whole crew to get it under control. It’s hard to know how big the fire is when you’re standing in the middle of the blaze. Wixted & Company (and our crew of “firefighters”) can help!

Blog by Kristie Bell