The first thing we often say to organizations when they want to engage in a project with us is, “there is no silver bullet”. Those words have never been more real. There is no silver bullet. There are times in recent history, including 9/11 and the 2008 recession, where we can glean best practices and make predictions based on past nonprofit performance. But we are now in different territory. With the COVID-19 pandemic, we are currently experiencing a type of crisis that current populations have never lived through – professionally, personally, or societally.
As we have reflected on what we are currently seeing and hearing, we suggest you consider these four ideas to spark conversations now.
- Will you be sustainable and relevant when the world is back up and running? – We know there are tough conversations happening across this country about reducing staff, program impact, and fundraising activities. However, you also must ask some of the bigger questions. Can you financially make it through the next fiscal year? What steps can you take right now to get you through this current situation and put you in a position to tackle the next six months to a year? The critical message to donors and key stakeholders is that your plan is sustainable past the current crisis. This message gives them the confidence to continue to support you. This plan should not be done in a vacuum of staff feedback only. This is where you need to engage the board, and consider an advisory team of industry leaders, volunteers, and donors. Decide on your plan, make decisions, and start moving forward.
- Know Your Lane – This isn’t the time to be all things to all people. Staying true to the mission and impact of your organization is critical during this time. It is easy to fall into the trap of “we can take on more” due to a donor’s request or detouring where you think there might be funding. If your organization has already fallen into this trap, it is time to take a step back and streamline. This is the time to simplify and focus on your specific programmatic area instead of expanding beyond your current reach.
- Revenue Diversity and Portfolio Mapping – This was a key lesson after the 2008 recession. If you are too reliant on one or two industries, or a handful of donors, it can set up your organization for disaster. Now is the time to objectively look at your revenue streams and set realistic metrics for each of them. Gaining a deeper understanding of your overall revenue portfolio and determining steps toward diversification allows you to be more sustainable moving forward.
- Telling the Authentic Story – This is the time to tell what is happening with your organization. Communication is critical with your donors, partners, staff and vendors. Hitting the send button on a direct mail appeal over and over that just communicates a one-dimensional need isn’t going to be enough. Organizations that successfully navigate through this crisis by maintaining the right balance of transparency are going to be stronger post-crisis. Displaying compassion with command and control is going to be key to future success. But, if you lead with a scarcity tone, it will follow you. It is time to be open, honest and vulnerable with all stakeholders. If you know you have limited options and resources to keep the lights on, ask a donor. Be precise. Don’t bury it in a direct mail appeal.