By Cate Redfern, CFRE at Adansonia Consulting

“Plan. Execute. Evaluate. Adjust.
This is a time to lead with integrity, demonstrate credibility and foster unity.”

COVID-19 is a different kind of crisis.   It is filled with unknowns. It directly threatens your team’s safety and your ability to source the things you need to execute your plans.  Both of these will cause uncertainty and require rapid reevaluation of priorities as your team works through the daily changing landscape presented to them.

In a such a dynamic environment, give yourself permission to actively re-plan.

Having a fresh actively rebuilt plan will give everyone a purpose, unify your team into a proactive force that continues to serve those that need you most, and help reduce anxiety for your employees and clients. If you don’t have a plan or don’t know where to start, I have some thoughts on how to get the ball rolling below.

Nonprofits are in a unique space because you are providing what members of our community need to survive – they depend on you to help meet some of their basic needs that allow them to provide for themselves and their families.  Likewise, nonprofits like animal shelters, zoos and wildlife sanctuaries are in a position where the animals in their care rely on staff and volunteers showing up every day to feed them and keep them healthy.

When a crisis like COVID-19 hits, nonprofits are caught between needing to make sure employees are safe and ensure continued delivery of essential programs and services to clients.  Developing solutions to the challenges of taking care of your employees and effectively maintaining operations requires navigation of a complex set of guidelines and recommendations.

There are also free online resources that I’ve listed at the end of this article that may help you develop your business continuity plan, communication plan and fundraising plan.

If you need further help with any of the following, contact Cate to schedule a free one-hour consultation to discuss how we may help you with:

  • Continuity plan development
  • Internal and external stakeholder crisis communication messaging development and dissemination
  • Donor-specific communication messaging development and dissemination
  • Disaster fundraising planning and execution

Business Continuity Plan Basics
If you don’t have a Business Continuity Plan, take a deep breath. Resist the temptation to ‘not waste time with planning’ and only react to events that need your attention as they come up in a rapidly changing crisis.  Spend a few hours with your senior management team and take the time out to develop an emergency plan:

  1. Identify your crisis management team. Assign clear roles and identify key responsibilities including human resources polices review and amendment, staffing planning, program and service delivery, internal and external communication, external relations with vendors and service providers, etc.
  2. Clearly define board member roles. In times of crisis well-meaning board members may want to jump into the deep end and get involved in managing day-to-day operations. Board member involvement should be determined by the Executive Director and Board Chair, and included in the management plan.
  3. The crisis management team should develop a business continuity plan that meets specific identified plan goals which may be all or some of the following: protect employees, continue to serve clients with least operational impact, preserve assets, etc. The current COVID-19 crisis is changing daily.  Schedule regular evaluations to review how your planned response is meeting your organizational needs, and adjust your plans as needed.
  4. The crisis management team should identify all critical functions needed to preserve the organization and continue program delivery as much as possible. For example: minimum acceptable level of service delivery to clients, protection of assets, financial stability. Once the essential activities to maintain these critical functions have been identified, develop a critical operations delivery plan that includes how each critical function will be resourced with time, staff and funds.  Any routine tasks or ad-hoc projects that are not critical to organizational survival or program delivery should be suspended, and the resources diverted to serve the operations identified in the business continuity plan.  Consider contacting community partners to collaborate on resource allocation and program delivery.
  5. Develop a staffing plan that determines the threshold for critical minimum attendance (in-person and work-from-employees) needed for critical business functions. Allocate staff to critical operations identified. Things to consider include: identifying key employees and developing cross-training and knowledge transfer processes, determining who can work from home and how they will be supported (equipment needs, expectations for reporting and check-ins, etc.), determining who is needed onsite and developing a policy for how to identify and support employees that get sick while at work.
  6. Develop an administrative plan that secures necessary cash flow through access to low-interest long-term relief loans, access to liquid capital and claiming relevant insurance benefits.
  7. Identify and contact key external vendors and determine what expectations are for continued service delivery, and determine contingencies in the event that they are not able to provide for all your needs.
  8. Create a central accessible data base for key information that can be accessed by the crisis management team remotely, and keep it updated regularly.
  9. Develop and implement a communication plan. Crisis communications should instill confidence in leadership to navigate the crisis at hand as well as include maintaining transparency, and honesty, and outlining what and how you plan to mitigate the effects of the crisis.  Maintain a realistic outlook while staying as positive as possible.  Remind your employees and stakeholders of your credibility, longevity, dedication of your staff, and your previous successes while outlining what you need from them as you work together to overcome this adversity.
    • Internal communications: The internal rumor mill runs rampant during a crisis. Maintain transparency and keep employees informed about changes and updates as soon as possible.  Effectively communicate the current status, how your are planning for the next stage in the crisis and remind employees that this is your current plan based on information available and national guidelines.  Remind them that adjustments will probably need to to be made in a rapidly changing environment.  Reassure them that changes will be communicated in a timely manner and outline how they will be receiving information, and from whom; phone tree, website, email, text etc.
    • External communications: appoint a single point of contact for external stakeholders including clients, donors, volunteers and community partners. Maintain transparency and keep them informed about if, how and when they can access programs and services.  If possible, provide alternative resources in the event that our organization is unable to meet all of their needs right now.  Let your community know how they can donate to support your programs, and if there are ways for volunteers to help if they cannot volunteer in the same manner that they have previously.
  10. Develop a crisis fundraising plan that acknowledges that everyone faces uncertainty; focuses on the immediate needs of your clients; demonstrates how you meet your clients’ needs, especially if they are exacerbated by the crisis; and clearly articulates how donors can help and what the impact of their help will be.

Finally, I want to recognize every single person that woke up and went to work for nonprofits today, onsite or at home.

You Are Seen.  Your dedication and commitment is seen.  Your talent and creativity is seen.  Your desire to make the world a better place is seen.  You are making a difference. 

Anxiety runs high during times of such widespread uncertainty. The one thing I know for sure is that nonprofit leaders, staff and volunteers create one of the most dedicated, creative and adaptable sectors in the workforce – and we love nothing more than helping people.  As we are called to help in ways we may not have anticipated, I know for sure that our nonprofit corps will face these hardships head-on, with the same tenacity, compassion, creativity and commitment to serve that we have demonstrated during every hardship that has come before this one. ~ Cate

Free resources for guidelines and recommendations organization during COVID-19:
Check these resources regularly as they update to reflect changes during this rapidly evolving crisis:
SCORE Mentors: Small Business Disaster Resources
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers
Small Business Administration: Low-interest long-term loans for small businesses and nonprofits
Society for Human Resources Management: Social Distancing Guidelines at Work
Zoom: Zoom has lifted is time limit for free account holders

Free resources for parents working at home with children at home:
Free Virtual Museum Tours
Free Scholastic Online Classes
Free Virtual Field Trips
Free Online Education during School Closings