Calm During a Crisis: Tips for Responsive Financial Aid Communication
Colleges and universities around the world have recently had to become familiar with handling a crisis that affects their staff, faculty, and students—and they’ve had to do it quickly. Whether it’s an emergency on campus, a natural disaster, or global pandemic, schools strive to support their communities through difficult circumstances by leading the way with strong leadership and excellent communication plans.
When it comes to the financial aid office, it’s extremely important to have a plan in place for communicating with students and families during a crisis. Why? For many, financial aid means the difference between staying in school and not being able to complete their programs of study. And that means when a crisis arises, financial aid is likely to be top of mind for those who are counting on it to be able to stay in school. Financial aid teams can help alleviate stress by providing resources and information to help students and their families navigate a crisis situation.
It’s important to follow any centralized communications plan your school has put in place, but if your office needs more ways to engage and reach out to students and parents, the following guidelines will help:
- Streamline information. Especially during a crisis, it’s imperative that your updates and latest information are easy to find. Whether it’s a website, SMS messages, or social media channels, be sure to have dedicated locations where you’re sharing information and directing people who are looking for updates. The easier it is to find information, the more reassured students and parents will be.
- Communicate compassion. Depending on the crisis, your school and community may be experiencing pain or grief. Make sure your messages are sincere, authentic, and sensitive. This is a time to express deep concern and care for your community, so communications should be personal and humble—and they should acknowledge the breadth and depth the crisis has on your entire school community.
- Act swiftly. Strive to communicate as quickly as possible with students and families while ensuring the highest level of accuracy in information. Receiving misinformation or a lack of information can lead to confusion and panic. As difficult as it can be to prepare for a crisis, it’s vital for your office to develop a plan for responding to these situations. Having a plan and procedures in place will enable you to respond quickly and confidently.
- Be responsive. Decide where to direct questions your students and their families may have. It’s important to know the best way to reach you if they need to get in contact, so be sure to share your most current number or email. That way, if they have a crisis-related question, they can easily get in touch. If there are specific questions you anticipate receiving, or if you receive repeat questions, consider creating a frequently asked questions resource to share.
- Simplify messages. It’s always important to communicate clearly and effectively when sharing complex financial aid information, but even more so during a crisis. Consider sharing messages multiple times and in bite-sized amounts. In a crisis, it can be difficult for anyone to navigate even small tasks. When you keep your messages simple—with clear actions, deadlines, and resources—you’ll ensure students and families can easily identify their next steps and the processes they need to complete them.
- Stay engaged. During a crisis, it’s crucial to engage regularly with your audience and keep them updated so they feel informed and safe. Be sure to check in often and use your social media channels—along with relevant hashtags—so that information and updates are easy to find.
- Collect and share resources. Chances are your school has several resources available to help your students, staff, and faculty during a crisis. It’s also likely that community members are creating new resources to directly address this most recent crisis. Find ways to collaborate across your school to curate and share these resources with those who need them most.
- Turn to your peers. Have your peer institutions been through a similar crisis? When you check in with other schools that may have experience in managing a crisis, you can gain valuable insights regarding best practices and innovative ways to support those in need at your institution. Additionally, staying connected with other institutions gives you valuable support resources during times of crisis when you may all need to help each other.
Take Care of Your Community
There’s no doubt that a crisis is stressful and causes disruptions across your staff, department, student body, and even the entire school community. It’s important to take care of yourself and one another during difficult times, so look for ways to support your team and reach out to students who you’ve connected with. Check in with your small network and encourage others around you to do the same. Financial aid offices know how overwhelming the financial aid process can be for students and their families under normal circumstances. During an unexpected crisis, any stresses students have may be heightened significantly. Communicating financial aid information clearly, calmly, and effectively is one of the best ways you can support your students through this difficult time.