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Through the Looking Glass: A Decade of Red Cross Crisis Response and Situational Crisis Communication Theory
Unformatted Document Text:  Crisis communications has emerged as a prominent research topic in public relations literature. Little attention, however, has been paid to nonprofit organizations (NPOs), one of the largest sectors of public relations practice. In particular, few studies have examined the crisis response strategies NPOs can employ to repair their reputations. If NPOs faced with a crisis employed the most effective strategies for communicating with their publics, they might be better able to restore a positive reputation and, ultimately, ensure the continued success of their organizations once the crisis has passed. The paucity of research focusing on this crucial aspect of overall crisis response planning by NPOs provided the impetus for the research presented in this article – a case study of the crisis response strategies employed by the American Red Cross. The American Red Cross was selected because, in recent years, the organization has found itself not only responding to natural disasters – hurricanes, fires, floods – but also dealing with crises of its own making. The organization has come under fire for blood shortages (Orfinger, 2000), issues of blood safety and discriminatory blood donation policies (Moran, 2003), scandals involving its management (Williams, 2007), questionable use of donations intended for 9/11 victims’ families (Left, 2001) and, what critics have termed the organization’s inept response to Hurricane Katrina (Strom and Robertson, 2005). Unfortunately, the American Red Cross has often been more successful in helping to solve the crises of others than they have been coping with their own – at least in terms of the negative perceptions of the media and the public. Part of the blame for these perceptions may lie with the crisis response strategies employed by the Red Cross in 1

Authors: Fussell Sisco, Hilary., Collins, Erik. and Zoch, Lynn.
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Crisis communications has emerged as a prominent research topic in public 
relations literature.  Little attention, however, has been paid to nonprofit organizations 
(NPOs), one of the largest sectors of public relations practice.  In particular, few studies 
have examined the crisis response strategies NPOs can employ to repair their reputations. 
If NPOs faced with a crisis employed the most effective strategies for 
communicating with their publics, they might be better able to restore a positive 
reputation and, ultimately, ensure the continued success of their organizations once the 
crisis has passed. The paucity of research focusing on this crucial aspect of overall crisis 
response planning by NPOs provided the impetus for the research presented in this article 
– a case study of the crisis response strategies employed by the American Red Cross.
The American Red Cross was selected because, in recent years, the organization 
has found itself not only responding to natural disasters – hurricanes, fires, floods – but 
also dealing with crises of its own making.  The organization has come under fire for 
blood shortages (Orfinger, 2000), issues of blood safety and discriminatory blood 
donation policies (Moran, 2003), scandals involving its management (Williams, 2007), 
questionable use of donations intended for 9/11 victims’ families (Left, 2001) and, what 
critics have termed the organization’s inept response to Hurricane Katrina (Strom and 
Robertson, 2005). 
Unfortunately, the American Red Cross has often been more successful in helping 
to solve the crises of others than they have been coping with their own – at least in terms 
of the negative perceptions of the media and the public.  Part of the blame for these 
perceptions may lie with the crisis response strategies employed by the Red Cross in 

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