PLEASE NOTE: This article is not attempting to focus on the loss of life and/or the long-term and serious health effects experienced by those infected with the virus: that is a much larger issue than this article attempts to address. Those losses are heart-breaking and obviously exceed a level of gravity far above the nonprofit organizational distress and dislocation this article is highlighting.
A New World, Almost Overnight
If you are like me (and everyone I know) you are beginning to think of the world as Pre-COVID-19 and Post-COVID-19. Life is so completely altered. The wall that divides before and after is wide and high. I look at photos taken just five months ago and I'm overwhelmed with great sadness in losing the our way of life. Dinners out with friends, visiting with my family when and how we wished, traveling internationally, dressing up for parties, going to the office, not wearing black stretch pants and a t-shirt everyday because my jeans don't fit anymore...all gone for now.
And who knows when, or if, we'll ever go back to "normal?" And that question is also pressing on the minds of many nonprofit leaders with whom I speak.
MissionBox is lucky to have a group of trusted mentors and advisors, leaders from the global nonprofit community, who are dedicated to helping MissionBox provide ideas and new information to nonprofits. Lately, we've been talking about how to re-imagine the nonprofit future without fear and with the anticipation of new opportunities, without forgetting our core social-good commitments. Out-of-the-box thinking, visionary planning, shifting our mindset, embracing change: these are all terms we are laying out on the table for closer examination. Exciting but scary stuff.
Was The Past So Perfect?
Before I can look ahead, I feel that I've got to examine the past. For nonprofit organizations, it may be a real survival imperative to take a hard look at what the past was really all about. Were you a "zombie" nonprofit, almost but not quite dead? Did you have holes in your strategic planning? Were you losing staff or donors or volunteers at an alarming rate? Were you often coping with budgetary shortfalls? Were your social impact outcomes less than stellar? Maybe your answer to all these questions is "NO!" If that's so, good for you and you'll likely weather this storm of a pandemic.
However, pre-COVID-19 research by the National Center on Charitable Statistics reveals that approximately 30% of nonprofits fail to exist after 10 years, and according to Forbes, over half of all nonprofits that are chartered are destined to fail or stall within a few years due to leadership issues, inconsistent financial stability, lack of flexibility or the lack of a strategic plan (among other things). These nonprofits are likely to see their demise accelerated by the chaos that the COVID-19 pandemic can sow, unless they are willing to think "out of their box" and make some changes.
Grieve the "Good Old Days" at Your Nonprofit, Accept What Is and Move On
Most of our nonprofit organization's operations, staffing. financial well-being, even where and how we communicate will likely be in some ways forever changed. And many nonprofit leaders are suffering from the anxiety and stress of scrambling to find the best way forward.
If we lead a nonprofit, we cannot afford, for our mission's sake, to allow ourselves to be frozen by today's challenges, however difficult. If your organization is going to make it through, it's time to feel the feelings, grieve the losses, accept the new normal, pick our organization up and brush ourselves off. And look to the future as an opportunity for positive organizational, operational and social change.
Your service recipients, your staff, your past donors, your volunteers and your community are counting on you.
Get Determined, Creative and Open to Change
Chronically challenged nonprofits can likely find ways to keep alive and work better than ever, if they are willing to honestly look at their previous shortcomings and work with their board and staff to correct them, Here are some key steps you and your board can consider:
1. Cost and Mission Sharing
It may be time to be open-minded and creative about survival solutions such as mergers, administrative cost sharing, etc.
2. Expand Service Capacity and Reach
With today's latest technology, you can remotely serve your clients and increase the numbers of families and individuals you can serve, while maintaining high quality mission delivery and positive outcomes. This strategy can also increase potential funding sources.
3. Better Collaborate With Other Service Providers
Achieve higher impact with fewer resources. Use collaboration to build capacity with minimal (or no) expense.
3. Make Social Justice and Equity a Priority
Stay relevant by educating your stakeholders with information on important and timely issues.4. Expand Access To Education, Resources and Support for Clients and Caregivers
When it comes to using social media for client communications, what you don't know can hurt everyone.
6. Do Use Digital Solutions to Create New Ways to Engage Supporters, Creatively Raise Funds, Support Advocates and Tell Your Stories of Mission Success.
Surprise! It's the 21st Century and there are a lot of new tools, widgets and digital platforms to better engage stakeholders of all types. This is the time to try new strategies and tactics to create financial sustainability and develop people resources, not just do more (and more and more) of the same.
7. Better Attract and Retain New Existing Major Donors and Volunteers.
Engagement technology is affordably available to increase your capacity and reach without additional hiring.
Already scarce volunteers are going to become even harder to attract and retain. Utilize new methods, supported by digital communication, to attract, train, engage and retain volunteers. Donors may be harder to come by and therefore more important to retain.8. Quickly, Effectively and Affordably Work Remotely
Consider The Unthinkable: Nonprofit Closure
Whatever options you choose, the best nonprofit leaders will guide their organizations to the most advantageous outcome with an open mind and a creative, fearless, can-do attitude toward change.
Nigel Barker, CEO of Cystic Fibrosis of Western Australia contributed to this article.