I think we can all agree that we are seeing a wide range of public response to the corona virus, ranging from unrealistically downplayed, to reasonable to panicked reactions.
Obviously, the “reasonable” category makes most sense to those with leadership positions in nonprofits. After all, your employees count on you to act to protect them, as much as is in your purview, from unnecessary exposure to misinformation and, of course, infection through preventative measures. They also rightly expect you to provide the support and help required of an employer should anyone in their nonprofit workplace contract the virus.
As nonprofit leaders, you can be best prepared via early and thorough planning, involving all members of your executive team, staff and volunteers, based upon accurate, timely information.
Nonprofits Leadership in This Public Health Emergency
The responsibility to protect and support nonprofit employees is the same responsibility that all employers face. The information resources you can utilize are the same as your corporate counterparts regarding healthcare guidance and public safety.
Generally, many nonprofits think that business, especially ‘big” business, has more and better HR resources with which to protect people. Bigger budgets mean better care and concern, correct?
Not true. Nonprofits can be just as equipped to provide employees with direction and assistance in the prevention and treatment of infectious illnesses, including COVID-19.
Prevention measures are often inexpensive and consist of common-sense applications of good hygiene such as hand washing, social distancing, avoidance of crowded events or venues and, should illness occur, professional medical treatment.
Quarantine for those who have been exposed to or are diagnosed with the virus is now a mandate. Again, your early planning can make this phase more productive and less stressful for your employee. Complete instructions on what you and your employees need to know are available at this CDC website.
FYI: The time is NOW to consult this and other reliable sources of information and begin your planning process. Next week or next month might well find you unprepared for this crisis if (probably when) it reaches your nonprofit door.
What to Consider in Your Planning Process
Certainly, medical insurance coverage is a requirement for good health care. Thanks to the individual coverage health reimbursement arrangement (ICHRA), a new option available to businesses and nonprofits beginning January 1, 2020, any nonprofit (even the smallest) can assist their employees by offering a tax free monthly allowance toward health care costs. If you provide medical health insurance in this or any other form, great! If you don’t, you might do well to provide employees with a list of free or sliding-scale health care resources in your community. A call to your regional 211 will likely provide you with that resource information.
Also, consider allowing employees to work remotely, whenever possible. There are virtual tools and platforms that extensively support remote work and collaboration among/between staff members.
Try and be flexible about sick time, perhaps calling an emergency meeting of your board to OK a temporary change in HR sick leave policies. Allowing salaried employees to “borrow” sick leave from the future or providing hourly employees with a way to make up time lost when ill can promote a healthier and happier workplace. Many times, people who feel sick will come to work if they don’t have available paid time off. This is exactly what you don’t want and may result in the infection of your entire team (and you, too).
Circumstances Unique to Nonprofits
Unlike most of the corporate world, nonprofits are unique in that they often rely upon volunteers to help with their mission delivery. While nonprofit leaders are not responsible for providing health care and financial compensation to volunteers, we are stewards of their safety and well-being when they are performing their volunteer activities for our organization. This means providing an infection-free environment (as much as is possible) and supporting their efforts to stay healthy. The same prevention measures you encourage in your employees should be extended to your volunteers. Likewise, volunteers can also stay involved on a remote basis. This will help keep their excitement and connection with your nonprofit alive, even when they are absent from your office.
Keep in mind that board members are also volunteers and keeping them connected to your emergency situation, your plan execution and your governance needs will keep them committed, informed and helpful during this challenging period.
If you are a nonprofit providing health or human services, education, advocacy or other client-related programming, you may feel a responsibility to ensure that your service recipients remain connected to your organization and support staff or volunteers.
In this case, and especially if you work with populations who are at risk of contracting the coronavirus, such as those with pre-existing medical conditions or the elderly, you may want to involve your board in a strategy meeting that includes representatives of your local government public health organization. They have a responsibility to assist you and your board in creating an emergency service plan that protects both service recipients and your employee/volunteers.
If appropriate, there are virtual communication platforms that provide your service recipients with a safe and secure channel to keep in touch with at-home staff members and volunteers. One such platform, LifeDriver, is provided by MissionBox.
If you already or can quickly utilize a remote engagement platform, this is an excellent time to let your major donors know that you are doing all the right things to protect your staff and volunteers. If you are serving service recipients on a remote basis, do keep your donors apprised of your success in creative mission delivery.
If you tell your emergency response story well, with photos videos, quotes from staff, volunteers and service recipients and invitations for donor ideas, it will not be forgotten when donors decide on their next round of contributions. Donors like to know that the nonprofit they support is on top of any contingency. Plus, donors like to support organizations that take seriously their responsibilities to constituents―employees, volunteers and clients.
The CDC tells us that they are closely monitoring this quickly changing health emergency. Stay abreast of the latest updates at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/summary.html. Accurate information is the best tool nonprofit leaders can utilize to ensure that they support their employees, volunteers and clients during this pandemic.