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Nonprofit Knowledge Matters


When will we begin to settle into the new “normal”? We’re all probably months away from being able to answer that question with any confidence, given all of the moving parts and unknowns. Congress continues to wrestle with the severe economic, health, and human tolls wrought by the novel disease, with Speaker Pelosi introducing sweeping legislation this week – the HEROES Act – containing many provisions designed to support the vital work of charitable nonprofits. Meanwhile, guidance continues to trickle out of the Small Business Administration about the Paycheck Protection Program, with this morning’s installment (FAQ #46) creating the following safe harbor: “Any borrower that, together with its affiliates, received PPP loans with an original principal amount of less than $2 million will be deemed to have made the required certification concerning the necessity of the loan request in good faith.” And, by this Friday, a majority of governors will have relaxed their stay-at-home orders and other restrictions to allow gradual reopenings.


Each nonprofit will need to decide how it will proceed with reopening-related issues, and this month’s edition of Nonprofit Knowledge Matters aims to help. The first article examines some trends among nonprofits, not just general percentages of “essential” nonprofits that kept their regular doors open and those that conducted their operations remotely via work-from-home arrangements, but also how the disease has been affecting their organizations. For nonprofits that have been working remotely, our second story presents some of the factors we’ll all need to weigh when deciding when and how to reopen our doors. Fortunately, several state associations of nonprofits and others have developed guides that can help inform your decision-making processes. This month’s edition concludes with two articles that explore the future – what changes we need to put in place in the near future for the safety of our staffs, volunteers, and the people we serve, and what we have learned in our workplace experiments during the last couple of months that we can carry forward as improvements in how we advance our missions.


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How are other nonprofits navigating these unchartered waters?

Stay-at-home orders, self-quarantining by those exposed or at high risk, six-foot physical distancing, and other public and private health measures can create the misimpression that we’re all disconnected and isolated. But whether you’re a hero working on the frontlines for a nonprofit providing essential health care, shelter services, child care, or other human services, or you’re wearing a different cape as a multi-tasking parent/teacher/nonprofit employee working remotely from home, you know you’re not completely alone. Still, you may be curious: what are other nonprofits experiencing?

Continue reading for results of national and state-level surveys on what nonprofits are experiencing



When will it be the right time to return to your pre-pandemic workplace?

The answer will be different for every organization based on multiple factors. The first factor, of course, depends on your mission. If your mission has been “essential” and you’ve remained on-site, what changes will you need to make to accommodate (potentially increased) clientele and any returning paid or volunteer staff? And for those who have continued to work on-site, what additional support do your staff need in terms of time off, longer breaks, or mental health services? For those reopening our doors, we’ll need to consider factors such as the size and layout of the workspace – for individual employees, clients, and visitors – in common spaces and at workstations. Other factors depend on your geographic location, the spread of COVID-19 in your region, and any public health orders by government authorities. And throughout, we all need to consider not the quickest or easiest ways to do something, but rather seek the highest common denominator of what’s needed by our staff members and the people we serve who may be at higher risk of contracting the virus or developing severe complications. A good working mantra could be, “Safety of others is our highest priority.”


Fortunately, you don’t have to invent a totally new wheel. Here’s an initial list of resources you can explore.  NOTE: What follows is not meant to be regarded as comprehensive guidance. We urge every nonprofit to consult the latest recommendations from the CDC, as well as your state and local officials, plus guidance from trusted sources within your subsector (such as for pre-schools, dental clinics, or the like) when making reopening decisions.



How will nonprofit workplaces and work practices need to change?

Even as external indicators show an eagerness by some to reopen everything, we all need to do what is right, not what may be popular in the moment. Simple logic and logistics may dictate the need to take more time. First and foremost, flexibility will need to be at the center of these decisions and processes.

  • For both safety and peace of mind of those on-site, each organization should have adequate quantities of hand sanitizer, cleaning/disinfecting supplies, and personal protective equipment for your staff. With so much demand for these products right now, it may be difficult to acquire what you need early on.
  • Keep in mind that everyone will have different realities outside of the office. Access to child care will not be back to normal right away, so some staff may continue to require flexible work schedules.
  • Similarly, access to transportation to and from work sites may be challenging for some employees, as physical distancing rules may restrict carpooling arrangements that existed pre-COVID-19. Also, public transportation may not be back to normal for quite some time. And, even if public transportation is running, some staff will avoid it for a while for their own safety. If employees previously relied on public transportation for their commutes, will some need to drive to and from the office? Is there adequate parking for them?
  • Workspaces where people previously worked in close quarters will need to be reconfigured and/or staff coverage staggered to continue to allow for adequate physical spacing. You may also want to institute a schedule for lunch breaks to avoid too much overlap in a small kitchen or break room space.
  • Just as you child-proof a home, virus-proof your workplace. What high transit doors can you prop open? In which high-touch, high-volume places can you place disinfectants (such as near the copy machine, the refrigerator, and the microwave)?

And those are just a few of the questions that will need to be answered. Below are some additional resources to facilitate consideration and preparation:


What does the future look like for nonprofits?

The past few months have been an experiment in adaptability and innovation. Many services have moved online or on the road. Should they remain that way? Zoom and similar platforms have been helpful, but nothing quite matches in-person interaction. We are all re-learning that right now. Yet, as many have discovered, connecting virtually can help nonprofits reach people who would otherwise face challenges accessing our services. Have these forced experiments opened our eyes and imaginations to new options for serving our communities in the future? Can a mix of in-person and virtual services improve mission delivery? For some inspiration, check out these articles about how nonprofits are adapting in Kentucky, New Mexico, Utah, and Vermont.


What about fundraising events? Many have been forced to turn live events into virtual ones over the last couple months. Are there learnings we can apply from those experiments? Future events might combine an in-person event with a way to connect virtually. Such hybrid events can allow a nonprofit to connect with people who may be unable to attend the live event because of physical disability or conflicting demands on their time. Before now, experimenting with such an arrangement may have been a little scary. But now we’ve had the opportunity to test a virtual component to events and meetings (and with an audience more understanding of hiccups along the way).


What will be different for your nonprofit moving forward? What innovations will you keep in place as we all find our new “normal”? Let us know and we may feature your ideas in a future issue of Nonprofit Knowledge Matters so we all can learn from each other.



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