Not-for-Profit Leadership During the COVID-19 Crisis

By Julie Rosen

Not-for-profit CEOs, who are already used to working with limited resources, are under enormous pressure as a result of the COVID crisis. Most chief executives are facing new financial constraints, shifting priorities among donors, and uncertain regulatory aid – all while tackling the operational challenges of running an enterprise with staff and volunteers trying gamely to pitch in from home. Many healthcare and social services-related nonprofits have the added burden of being on the front lines of the battle against the coronavirus.

While each nonprofit CEO encounters unique circumstances, the following are helpful tips for how to lead and manage the next few months.

  1. Take care of your organization. If you have not done so already, learn about federal and state bills and assistance recently enacted that will provide short and long term assistance as a not-for-profit and as an employer. If you don’t have the bandwidth or expertise to do this, enlist the help of a knowledgeable board member or trusted advisor. There are a number of reputable organizations that have in-depth interpretations of these relief packages on their websites. Two organizations of note are the National Council of Nonprofits and BoardSource. Additionally, many states have a not-for-profit consortium, which will assist in interpreting state-by-state assistance.
  2. Review your sick leave and vacation policy and, if possible, be flexible in implementing the policy during this crisis. Communicate frequently with your staff by being available as a sounding board but also scheduling frequent updates by Zoom or Skype.
  3. Review your organization’s contingency plan and develop scenarios based on all of the information that is available to you. Involve key staff members and your board and finance chairs in this planning to provide sound advice and perspective.
  4. Communicate frequently with the board by setting up a weekly video call to brief them on your financial situation and what your organization is doing to stay in business. This is a major opportunity for them to both help with fundraising and also in thanking people who give money to the organization.
  5. Reach out more regularly to donors. You, along with senior staff, should be in close contact by phone, email and text with major public and private donors to check in and let them know how the organization is doing.
  6. Whatever you do, do not stop raising money during this time period. Many not-for-profits have set up an emergency COVID fund for their clients and employees and are raising significant funds depending on the focus of the organization. Focus on the basic needs of your organization during this time and make sure you are checking in regularly with your Finance and Investments Committee. Make sure that your online fundraising mechanism works well during this time. Your supporters will want to do something to help you. Depending on the focus of the organization, this fund needs to be directly tied into the mission and work in order to compete with the myriad of other organizations that are doing the same.
  7. Use social media to broadcast the “state of the state” and the vital work of your organization during this time of crisis.
  8. Take care of yourself. This is a stressful time. Remember the old adage, put your oxygen mask on first before helping others. Carve time out for yourself to rejuvenate; the organization will be well served with a leader who can think clearly and strategically.

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