You matter. Indeed, the work that nonprofits do will matter even more in the weeks and months ahead as the novel coronavirus disease reshapes everyone’s daily lives. Yes, that work is being challenged in ways and at a scale we’ve not experienced before, with demands shifting while resources change in amounts (dollars) and locations (people). But the core of our work and values has not changed: we exist for people in our communities.
To help you during this time of sudden change, this month’s edition of Nonprofit Knowledge Matters identifies some of the best resources we’ve seen from across the country. We’ve added these to a COVID-19 resource page on our website. Please share how the coronavirus is affecting your nonprofit. Your stories and data will help as we advocate for solutions in the weeks and months ahead.
But before you dive into these resources, we invite you to check out – and share – this four-minute video How We Can Support Each Other and Our Communities During the Coronavirus Crisis.
Communicating with our constituencies
First and foremost, we all need to keep open lines of communications with our boards, employees, volunteers, donors, and the people we serve. As part of that, we should continue to share information and resources from credible sources, such as the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And we need to be transparent about our decision-making, whether remaining open for business, adjusting hours or services, or making the tough decision to cancel events or temporarily close the doors.
The Communications Network has a toolkit you can use for clear and effective communications on COVID-19. And the Public Relations Society of America shared this infographic on dealing with the “infodemic,” what some are calling the current phenomenon of information overload.
Taking care of our teams and our communities
Late last week, our organization made the decision to close our office and have our team work remotely. Not every nonprofit has that choice. But, if you do, now is the best time to dust off your remote work policy or create one for the first time. Again, communication is key. Walk through the reasons for the decision. Transparency right now is the best way to overcome fear and uncertainty. In case it’s helpful, here’s the message our CEO shared with the team here announcing that we’re going to telework for the time being. And, if you are moving to remote work, don’t forget the importance of equity. Your staff may not all have the same access to equipment or a quiet space in their home, so be sure you are doing what you can for your team.
For your employees, the Montana Nonprofit Association put together a terrific guide on Suddenly Working From Home with practical tips for how they can make the best of this challenging situation.
For those nonprofits where remote work isn’t a possibility, we know the decisions you're making are difficult, if not impossible, such as whether to cut back hours – and the effects of that on both your hourly workers and the people you serve. There is no one answer for everyone and no single decision-making tree to follow. We urge you to take things day-by-day and not to fear changing direction as new information becomes available.
Taking care of our missions by speaking up about urgency of financial needs
We’ve all heard it before, “No money, no mission.” That’s especially relevant right now as many of you – doing the socially responsible thing – have already cancelled fundraising events, shut down conferences that often earn more than half of your revenues, and terminated other revenue-producing performances and activities. Charitable nonprofits collectively earn almost a third of all revenues from written agreements to deliver services on behalf of governments, but those grants and contracts often are volume-based - something not sustainable when unable to provide the services or trainings because public transit and public gatherings have been curtailed or even shut down. Yet while revenues plummet, demands for our services will increasingly soar.
It is important to be communicating with your supporters about the real-world effects of this pandemic on the people you serve. If you’re facing increased demands for service, share that. If you’re seeing revenue decreases, share what that means for advancing your mission. Our instincts may be telling us to tiptoe around those issues, but the reality is that we can’t. Not everyone is going to be able to provide the same levels of support now – or for a while – but those who can need to know about the help your nonprofit needs.
Realistically, individual donors and foundations alone cannot fill the gaps if governments are not paying. Still, some foundations are starting to step up to do more. Lots more. As Ruth McCambridge reported in today’s Nonprofit Quarterly, in Time for Philanthropy to Double Down in Response to COVID-19:
“[T[he R.S. Clark Foundation, announced in a blog yesterday that the foundation would add an additional year of funding for all current grantees. This gets close to the strategy NPQ is backing, which we borrowed from Vu Le, which is that all foundations consider doubling their payouts this year and that they specifically double the grants already made over the past year to allow their grantees to not only weather the storm while serving a public in crisis, but also invest in advocacy—because this crisis is also an opportunity, and we should be working very hard to disallow a recovery whose benefits are regressive.”
Our colleagues in the foundation world are as overwhelmed by the sudden pandemic as we are. Still, there are ways to encourage them to act. This Open Letter to Funders Regarding Coronavirus Response by Washington Nonprofits - informed from their perspective in the initial epicenter of COVID-19 in the U.S. - lays out the unfolding pain and urgency for funders to act, immediately and boldly. One relatively easy ask that you should consider: ask foundations to convert any project grants to general operating and allow funding to continue to flow, even though reality may be shifting your nonprofit’s work from the original objectives of the grant. And here are even more great ideas in two powerful pieces from Vu Le: Funders, this is the rainy day you have been saving up for and A few things for nonprofits and foundations to consider in light of the Coronavirus.
Taking care of our finances
Meanwhile, we all must be judicious stewards of the resources we have. Conversations about sustainability have turned into conversations about survivability. Steve Zimmerman of Spectrum Nonprofit Services shares some tips for looking at the dual bottom line for your organization: finances and impact. And Curtis Klotz of CLA takes a look at Financial Leadership in the Face of Impossible Choices. As many nonprofits look at their financial bottom line and the difficult decisions regarding what to do about staffing (and what that means both for your team and for the people you serve), Curtis’s article identifies some options to consider.
Taking care of our ourselves
As we all practice social distancing to benefit physical health, we need to be cognizant of its effects on mental health. The social aspects of our lives, from the escapes of concerts and movies to the simple opportunities to chat around the water cooler, have been upended. So, it’s important to practice self-care during this time. Encourage your organization to hold virtual staff meetings by video conference, rather than just by phone. Getting to see other faces is just a small gesture, but it’s useful.
The CDC has resources for managing anxiety and stress. For a little more fun, check out this list from Quartz of 15 ways to practice self-care in the time of coronavirus. And for anyone with children, the National Association of School Psychologists shares a resource on talking to kids about COVID-19.
Taking care of our communities’ future – by encouraging online completion of census forms
While it may seem trivial in these times, the huge importance of a fair, accurate, and complete census count hasn’t changed. What has changed is the importance of encouraging online completion of the census questionnaire. By encouraging people to complete the census online – and early – you can help reduce the burden on in-person census takers and the many nonprofits that are helping to ensure everyone is counted. Invitations to fill out the form started landing in mailboxes last week. This tweet from New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson spells out some great activities you can do while social distancing. Spoiler alert: filling out the census is one of them. You can share similar social media posts with your followers.
A final note
We hope the resources shared in this edition are helpful. Again, we'll be consistently updating the resource page on our website as new tools become available. If you see something that the rest of the nonprofit community can benefit from, please share it with us, so we can add it to the page. And don't forget to share the impacts of COVID-19 on your nonprofit's work with us and with local media. This situation has brought out the best in so many of our friends, neighbors, and colleagues, whether nearby or across the country. If your community hears about your challenges, they may be able to help out. We wish you all good health and we stand with you as we navigate the next weeks and months together.
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