Managing a Nonprofit in the Middle of a Pandemic

For weeks now, you may have felt like a firefighter instead of a nonprofit executive. That’s not surprising, and you aren’t alone. Calls from participants, members, volunteers, donors, sponsors, board members, and the media seem endless, and all seem to need an immediate response. It’s critical for preserving and protecting your organization’s reputation. As the phone calls, emails, and texts die down, now is the time to put through a plan that addresses the survival and sustainability of not only your organization but your role in it.

To help with the development of a new pandemic plan, we’ve come up with a list of tips to ease the transition:

  1. Be the resource everyone trusts. Think of various ways you can promote the value of belonging to and supporting the organization under current circumstances. If you presently have social media (If you don’t, what are you waiting for?), take it further than just posts, consider videos, or live podcasts on Instagram or Facebook, or complimentary webcasts. Get the word out that your nonprofit is a valued and trusted resource in the community by keeping lines of communication open. Think through the needs of constituents by developing and introducing new services the organization can provide virtually.

  2. Be proactive. Tell stakeholders what the organization is doing for them during this crisis. Develop an action plan for how to handle the release of ‘new’ messaging. Above all, manage message consistency through all communications channels. Avoid duplicating a similar message that constituents are likely to see elsewhere. Appoint a spokesperson to be the “face of the organization.”

  3. Create a contingency budget. This budget should identify risks and quantify impact for accuracy in assessing contingency costs. It’s time to leverage assets, cautiously access reserves, and get laser-focused on new funding opportunities such as foundation and government grants and other stimulus programs.

  4. Be sure governance does not outweigh your progress. Relax a bit. If you, or staff, or volunteers miss a deadline, simply document it, and move on. If an infraction occurs, be accountable, but don’t dwell on it. Above all, do not break any laws.

  5. Keep the board informed. The board of directors may not be as available as they were pre-pandemic, so clarify their role and yours. If needed, request you be allowed to make urgent decisions fast, but always keep the board informed every step of the way.

  6. Keep the board motivated. While an executive director’s responsibility to administer the organization, the board should be considering the future, what adjustments to make, how to advance the organization’s vision and mission. However, two things can happen to a nonprofit when executives and businesses are struggling for survival: micromanagement or chronic absenteeism. Either one can challenge the organization’s future.

  7. Address and prioritize the organization’s goals. Prioritize what the organization needs to accomplish now. Save the bylaws review for later. Get feedback from board members, volunteers, service recipients, and other stakeholders on activities and committees. Program and service changes should reflect the impact the crisis has on constituents.

  8. Consider a sunset review of your organization. Are there outdated or underperforming programs or committees? Are publications losing subscribers? Does social media need a reboot? Is fundraising down or at a standstill? What can you do to revive interest without overwhelming staff, volunteers, and board members?

  9. Remember to celebrate. Pause a moment to celebrate achievement. Promote good deeds—praise board members, staff, and volunteers for hanging in there with you. Share how they are rising to the challenge. Recognize the value each person brings to the organization and acknowledge that they, too, are grappling with the pandemic.

  10. Repurpose and revise canceled events. Rethink fundraising events like galas, athletic events, auctions, and concerts and take fundraising virtual. Use technology to conduct events; there are a wide variety of fundraising platforms and software to help. Be creative! And get creative with the budget. Remember that money you were going to spend on a big expensive hotel dinner? Well? How about repurposing that budget to get what you need to go virtual?

Stay connected. While lockdowns and social distancing can be isolating, at its core, nonprofits are about community. Consider partnering with other organizations. Connect with board members and volunteers through social media, online meeting software, and email. Stay connected with the staff. Be sensitive and supportive of their needs. Working remotely can be a big challenge, especially for those who were out in the community all day every day, or those with small children at home. Help them cope with multiple priorities with project management software. There are lots out there.

The role of any nonprofit is to support its constituents and the community by ensuring they know the value and resources your organization brings to the table. With proper planning, communications, and program management, nonprofits can overcome this crisis and its challenges while staying relevant to its stakeholders and the community.


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