By: Melissa Lagowski
Big Buzz Idea Group
You might feel like you will never break free from Zoom calls and virtual meetings right now, but we will reach the other side of this “shelter in place” soon. However, the world as we knew it will never be the same. Have you started thinking about what this means for you and your nonprofit?
Many organizations have been extremely busy as a result of COVID-19, trying to keep up with an increased demand from core constituencies and working to pivot their in-person services to virtual programming. Nonprofit leaders have been struggling to stay abreast of financial assistance programs, additional giving campaigns and managing remote workforces. We get that you are busier than ever right now, but times like this are for preparation and innovation. If you actively invest the time now to plan out what you want to achieve on the other side of COVID-19, you are far more likely to succeed. You must make the time to begin planning for a future that has already been altered.
At some point, you probably grumbled about a program that had run its course but the Board wouldn’t retire it. Or perhaps you have an annual fundraiser that is no longer netting the results to make it worthwhile. This is your chance to re-imagine the possibilities. The market is forcing you to consider a redesign anyway, so this is the time to approach your future with a blank slate and the intention to serve your mission in the most meaningful way possible.
Reconnect with Your Why
When was the last time that you thought about your “why?” Take a moment to think about why you do what you do: Why do you serve the nonprofit arena? Why does your organization matter? Why does the work you do matter? To you? To the people you serve? Reconnecting with your why helps re-ignite your passion for your mission, so start by identifying your why and confirming that it is still the same as it was three months ago. Many needs have shifted significantly in the last eight weeks, and your why may have significantly intensified.
Evaluate Your Work and Your Desires
Organizations were forced to make unexpected and immediate changes over the past couple of months. As an example, we were thrust into working remotely, creating virtual programming and finding new ways to connect with our Boards and our program participants. Many had to quickly decide what to do with their Spring fundraisers, learn about new grant programs and adjust their fundraising efforts amidst a state of higher financial demand. Our worlds were turned upside-down overnight, and the adjustment happened so quickly that most people haven’t really had the chance to think about the new normal and analyze the entirety of its effects.
So now is the time to make a list of the pros and cons of your world before COVID-19 and your world after COVID-19. You may have some surprising findings. For example, while I miss meeting with people in person, I love the short commute times of these virtual meetings, which means I can be home for dinner every night with my family. As you work to “reset” your life, personally and/or professionally, feel free to select the best of both worlds to plan for your future as you think about what comes next. Maybe you have made recent programming cuts during this time that have not really been missed. Perhaps you found other ways to save money that you can carry forward after the pandemic. You now have the ability to adjust your services, your roles, your processes, your fundraising, etc., so don’t miss this opportunity that could make your work and your life more balanced or more meaningful.
Innovate for Growth
“Crisis is the mother of invention.” We have heard it before, but today is proof that it still rings true. Opportunity truly exists when we realize that it is not just our roles that have drastically changed, but our clients, members and leaders have had to adjust their lives, as well. What monumental shifts have they been forced to make? Why not use this time to connect with the various constituents that you serve and ask them? What is their current pain point? What is their greatest need? Is there something that you could offer them to help?
Look for the gaps in your industry and any gaps in your services. After such a large disruption (that is still evolving), this is an ideal time to identify what is missing for your industry and/or clients/members. Is this an adjustment that you can make? Is the need something you could offer? Crisis is a time to identify how you might make shifts in your work to better serve your audience. You may uncover something you never thought of before that could increase your relevance (and revenues) in the future.
Re-establish the Vision
Now that you have taken inventory of what was working and what was not, it is time to re-establish your overall vision. Again, this is the time to hit the reset button to design what life after COVID-19 will look like for your nonprofit organization. Write about it in detail. What services will you offer? Who will you serve? How will you make them feel? What do you want to be known for? Why will your clients or members need you? How will you improve the nonprofit world? How will that make you feel? What lessons have you learned that you can apply, and how will your life be different as a result? What will you offer that you hadn’t before? What will you discontinue offering because it no longer serves you?
You get to keep doing what has served you well and put changes into place to improve the parts of your work that have not been serving you well. Personally, I have identified many things in our company that need to be simplified. I have also identified services that we no longer want to offer, and we are creating some new ways to assist nonprofit organizations in need. This pivot is reinvigorating our team and increasing our excitement about the future of the company.
Today offers the biggest opportunity of your life to hit the reset button, so do the work now to create intention for your future. It will provide the clarity you need to move forward when we are able to proceed with our lives again.
Finally, prepare to promote your services and any shifts that your organization makes. It may be human nature to shrink when we are afraid or uncertain, but now is not the time to play small. To overcome the effects of the coronavirus on your nonprofit, you need to be ready to announce what you are offering and why it matters. Let others know and ask them to help spread the word. It is important to share the news about any adjustments that your NPO is making, so plan accordingly for how you will do this for the greatest effect. Do you need to make tweaks to your website about new services? Share an announcement? Post the news on social media?Whatever the methodology, you should have a bold plan ready so that you can quickly move as the shelter in place mandate is lifted.
And if the quick adjustments of mid-March have taught us anything, they have shown us to be scrappy. The rollout of new services or service adjustments don’t need to be perfectly packaged. Often, a desire for perfection results in paralysis, but don’t let that hold you back. We have all learned that you can create something and continue adjusting the offerings or the packages as you go. After all, we were all fumbling with Zoom and virtual technology in the beginning, but with time and experience, now people have learned how to change their virtual backgrounds and use the system far more effectively. So, there is no need to aim for perfection here; just aim to get the information out to those who need it, knowing that you can continue to improve it in the future.
We may be living through the only time in our history when we can hit a reset button on life, so don’t let this opportunity pass you by. Invest the time to really analyze your organization and your purpose so you can properly position yourself for greater success and satisfaction after the new normal of COVID-19 sets in. Even the slightest adjustment may provide huge benefit to you and those you serve.