Life After COVID-19: Next Steps for Your Nonprofit
By: Melissa Lagowski
Big Buzz Idea Group
COVID-19 entered the news in early January, but it entered our American lives hard in mid-March. For the last three weeks we have gone from “normal” living to modified living to shelter in place. And now we all wait and wonder when these restrictions will lift and when we will be safe to return to “normal” again. Unfortunately, normal will never be the same for any of us. So, what now?
As we all adjust to this new “normal,” it is important to identify your most immediate needs. If you have not already done these things, please do so immediately.
- Shore Up Finances
Fundraisers are currently being postponed or canceled, and the development contributions may have temporarily halted. The first thing that every organization must do is review available assets as well as confirm what backup resources exist for the nonprofit. It is important to analyze your monthly expenses (operating “nut”) against your existing cash balance to identify how long you can continue operating in the immediate situation. If your organization is one of those fortunate enough to collect ongoing revenue, you should factor this into the equation.
The next step is to look at who still needs your services. Based on your mission, who is counting on you in these unusual times? Some organizations are in higher demand while some are now on an indefinite pause – not because their mission isn’t important, but because their mission doesn’t require the same level of resources in this remote setting. It is important to review which employees are critical to providing your services with any COVID-19-induced modifications so you can make the appropriate staffing adjustments. While nobody wants to lay off or furlough an employee, it is important that you are fiscally responsible for your nonprofit in these unprecedented times.
- Review Available Resources
In response to COVID-19, there are a number of city, state and national grants and loans available; depending on your specific industry, additional resources may be available. There are also many companies offering webinars and free education; here are some resource pages that we are aware of. Be sure to check for other resources near you, including your bank!
- Connect with Your Team
If your business is considered “essential,” then you are still seeing your team regularly and connecting isn’t really a problem. Most of us, on the other hand, have moved to a remote work environment, which creates some challenges. During this process, be sure to have regular team meetings as well as individual calls so that you can confirm that employees are clear on their directives. As part of these check-ins, be sure to allow time for some discussion about what the employee thinks about the changes. Not everyone is good at working remotely and, for some team members, the isolation might be frustrating and difficult. By allowing time for these conversations, you can help your team navigate these workplace adjustments more successfully and protect your team culture.
- Remember Your Value
Do not undervalue your nonprofit. We have seen many organizations who feel that their mission may not be as critical to the general population during this pandemic, but it doesn’t mean that your nonprofit doesn’t do valuable work for your audience. As you prepare to share communications and maybe even conduct much needed fundraising requests, choose your words carefully so you do not unintentionally devalue your worth.
Everyone is working to figure out what comes next. Recognize this in your world. Be intentional about maintaining communications with your leadership team, employees, your Board of Directors, clients, donors and volunteers. It may be beneficial for certain NPOs to really ramp up communications while others may be able to maintain the usual communication schedule. However, all should be ready and willing to address the elephant in the room and let people know what your organization is doing during the pandemic. Share any changes that might take place and take this opportunity to ask how you could better serve your members or program participants. During times like these, small organizations might get so caught up in the chaos that they forget the importance of communication. Be sure to make it a priority.
Once you settle into your new routine and order is somewhat restored, it is important to return to planning for the future. We will move past this moment in time – but it is unlikely that we can ever return to the way things used to be, so you need to start planning for the future of your organization.
- Identify the Lessons Learned
Inevitably as you worked through the initial chaos of the pandemic, you realized some gaps that may have existed. Perhaps you had a lack of technology. Maybe you lacked an “Emergency Preparedness” plan. Did you realize that you need to add a role to your Board or your team? Take time to review the lessons learned so you can plan for what you want to do better in the future. This is a great time to take inventory of the critical elements you need to be better prepared for future emergencies.
Adaptability is the key to organizations coming through difficult times. Use this time to encourage the organizational leaders and staff members to think differently than ever before. In times of disruption, new ways of working often appear as clearly as the lighthouse cuts through the fog, but you need to be listening and watching for these insights. Encourage your team and your Board to capture thoughts and ideas during this time. What seemed farfetched in February might become part of the “new normal” in May or June.
- Prioritize and Strategize
Lead with intention as you look to move your organization forward. We all have limits and this pandemic has certainly tested most people’s limits. To move forward you must get very clear on what your organizational priorities are and then strategize what steps are necessary to get there. Each of these unknowns have left a lot of us just spinning our wheels, which can result in unfruitful distractions if you let it. During times like these, remind yourself why what you do is important, then set your priorities and strategize a plan to make your vision a reality. It will keep your organization on track for future growth.
Look to the Future
- Prepare for Change
We can’t experience something like COVID-19 and return to “normal.” Life as we know it will forever be changed, but we should embrace the fact that this is an opportunity. Through this crisis, we have had the ability to quickly and unexpectedly utilize skills we didn’t know we had. We have identified gaps and gotten clearer on greater needs within the communities we serve. Some organizations now serve their members in ways they never had before. We must accept that the world around us will forever be changed, and we must adapt with it.
- Evaluate the Pros and Cons of Then and Now
Two months ago, we were doing everything to the best of our ability. Then mid-March hit and everything we knew got turned upside-down. We had to adjust how we were operating, and we learned new ways of doing things practically overnight. Take time now to list the pros and cons of how you were operating two months ago. Then list the pros and cons of how you have been operating during COVID-19. Then go through both lists and select your “ideal state” of how you would like to operate going forward. We have the ability to innovate and improve the efficiencies of our nonprofits, so let’s make the most of it!
- Rethink How You Deliver Your Mission
While we may have been forced to change the way we operate, embrace this time to analyze how you deliver your mission. Did you find any new opportunities or potential partnerships? Are you able to collaborate with another organization for a better program? Were you able to reach more clients by providing virtual offerings? Did you identify additional people that you could serve with only minor modifications? Were there ideas that you wanted to offer but didn’t have the bandwidth? Get your team together and discuss ideas about how you can make the most impact going forward. This moment is rich with lessons and possibilities; don’t let it pass you by.
- Diversify Your Funding Alternatives
Many organizations had to postpone or cancel their annual fundraising events this spring, and we just aren’t sure what will happen with other events later this year. If organizations haven’t already done so, nonprofit leaders must think about diversifying their revenue streams and identify potential fundraising opportunities that are not tied to annual events. Many organizations receive annual funding from foundations, programs, individual giving and other fundraising events. It seems that now might be the time to identify some new fundraising options. A fundraising opportunity that has low overhead and doesn’t require a large gathering of people might serve your organization really well right now, so put on your creative hat and think about new solutions to old problems.
There is no doubt that these times might have caught us off guard and unexpectedly, but the time is right to identify what we can do now to better prepare our organizations for the future. Nonprofit leaders who really dissect this period will rise above the storm and lead their organizations successfully to better days ahead. Heed the call. Evaluate and adapt. Embrace change. Your efforts will make the world a better place.