I got the news late last week that my social entrepreneurship class was postponed due to COVID-19, so I decided to share my lesson in today’s special blog, which includes many questions I have been receiving from clients.
Whether you are a young entrepreneur just getting started or a social sector veteran, fear is real. It can cripple you, preventing you from being able to implement new ideas or programs. How to manage FEAR is one of the most important lessons I teach future entrepreneurs. To paraphrase Zig Ziglar, FEAR presents us with two possibilities: Forget Everything And Run OR Face Everything And Rise. The difference is mindset. And, mindset is a choice.
Today, as “professional helpers,” we are in uncharted territory as a sector, but – fear or not – I don’t know of any group that collectively rises to every occasion better than the social sector. We live courageously every day. Today is no different.
Here are some of the questions I have received from clients. I have been studying the civil sector in other countries over the past few days to give you the best advice possible:
As the CEO, I am worried about frontline staff and volunteers who are working directly with those in need. We are following all the CDC-recommended precautions, but what else should I be thinking about?
We are glad you are taking every precaution to protect your staff and clients and still maintaining some business continuity. First, we encourage you to deputize a person on your team to stay abreast of the latest CDC/WHO guidelines, healthcare regulations, and city and county proclamations and regularly share them with impacted staff, so they can focus on the tasks ahead of them and not get lost in the media deluge. There is a lot of misinformation swirling around, and it is important that the nonprofit sector shares only factual information.
Second, we encourage you as CEO to speak frankly and regularly with stakeholders about the uncertainty surrounding the virus and its impact. I also encourage you to be as engaged as possible in understanding what is happening on your organization’s frontlines and get regular updates from staff members. Be proactive about cutting any red tape or adjusting rules based on extenuating circumstances. Finally, it is important to provide tangible action items that not only the organization but also individuals can take proactively to help.
How will this impact funding and fundraising? What should we do about events? What should we do about grant funding?
Based on what we have seen in other countries, nonprofits that are not on the frontlines providing healthcare and basic necessities have seen an impact already – reductions in corporate cash donations as companies respond to uncertainty (see company in-kind donation tracker at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to see what they are donating) and decreases in individual giving due to reduced disposable income.
As for events, while your inclination may be to cancel events, we share the opinion of many fundraisers that events should either be held virtually or be postponed to a later date. People come to events to support your mission, not for the food or fun. Consider novel ways to engage folks in your mission in an alternate way online. You may not raise as much money as you had hoped, but you will raise goodwill.
As for grants, government grants are the most secure since most contracts take extraordinary circumstances into account. As soon as possible, review all your government and foundation grants. Check into these extraordinary circumstances clauses and send your project officer a proactive game plan with revised timelines, activities and outputs for March and April for approval, if needed. You may need to move to virtual classes, conference calls or other creative methods until business can resume. This is the perfect opportunity to upskill and embrace technology as a way to assist with providing services.
We have upcoming staff and board meetings. What should we say and do?
Business should continue but be modified to fit the circumstances. Obviously, if you are an agency on the healthcare frontlines, consider what makes the most sense. But, for others, you will be surprised how important it is during difficult times to stay connected. Remember FDR’s “fireside chats” during the Great Depression? These allowed the president to maintain a vital connection with the American public and offered a way to quell rumors and explain policies. As a leader, what you say and do matters. If you maintain a positive, can-do attitude, practice wellness and accomplish goals in a productive way while working from home, others will follow.
For staff meetings, think about a virtual meeting every other morning where staff members can share stories and cheer each other on.
For board meetings, move these to virtual meetings and ensure your bylaws are updated to reflect this possibility.
We have many staff working from home. How can we best support them?
For public health reasons, many social sector organizations in the United States are allowing employees to work from home. For some, this may be the first time that they have had this luxury, and it is important for employers to help these employees stay focused and productive. Even without all the headlines and kids staying home from school, working from home can be daunting. I have found a good blog post with tips to keep your productivity up during this challenging time. I also encourage managers to connect with their team members on goals for the year. Determine which goals or items can be accomplished during an extended time at home (e.g., professional development, continuing education requirements, cleaning up databases). In addition, there are a number of free trainings now available on TechSoup to help you brush up on skills as well as free team tools. Now is the perfect time to improve your skills, make progress on a big report or research a new venture.
We know this will impact our nonprofit. What should we be thinking about now?
We strongly recommend that you hold a special executive team meeting to discuss possible scenarios and prepare for them now. As always, think first about how your clients and community will be impacted and how to best respond. Based on what we are experiencing and have learned from other countries – the first wave of social services are active (e.g., safety net services of hunger, health and safety), but there will be a great need for second-wave services (e.g., employment, housing, financial support and coaching, and recovery). Think about how this might change your priorities and possibly even your strategy in 2020. Share your best ideas with your board, policymakers and funders, so they can prepare as well.
After thinking about the community, think about your agency. Could this impact your ability to keep your doors open? How much of a safety net do you need? It is important to make this determination as soon as possible, so you can prevent the worst-case scenarios.
We know that the “professional helpers” in the social sector will rise to the occasion and be a source of inspiration and strength during these uncertain times. We stand beside you with immediate ideas for action as well as future scenarios to consider as these weeks play out. We will continue our efforts to share interesting trends and ideas weekly through our blog as well as daily through our social media channels listed below. We welcome your questions, comments and ideas in return.