Charlie Imbergamo | Director of Strategic Programs Resources
Grant writing is challenging in “normal” times, but when we add a crisis to the mix, many nonprofits aren’t sure where to turn next. Do we apply for grants? If so, which funders should we consider? Whether your organization is providing basic needs to help people impacted by the coronavirus or are considered less “mission-critical,” now is the time to improve and move your grant-seeking endeavors forward. While most nonprofit events have been canceled and fundraising from individual donors can be difficult in a crisis, grant-seeking continues to present a strong funding opportunity. During this session, grant expert Julé Colvin, who teaches NLC’s Certificate in Grant Writing, will guide participants through the critical steps nonprofits can take during this time.
Join us on April 9 at 2:30 p.m. ET. After this FREE one-hour webinar, you will:
Better understand where your nonprofit fits within the current grant writing landscape
Learn key strategies to seek grants during this time of crisis
Discover the three main types of grant funder strategies during a crisis
Learn about current and future grant funding opportunities
Be inspired to use your writing skills to tell critical stories that will transform lives
This webinar is for anyone who is involved in grant seeking or the grant writing process, from those new to grant writing to seasoned professionals. It is also beneficial for nonprofit development staff, executive directors and administrative staff.
How to Register
Grant Writing in Times of Crisis Thursday, April 9, 2020 2:30-3:30 p.m. EST
At the beginning of 2020, I encouraged nonprofit leaders to embrace four traits I believed we would all need to be successful this year. One of those was what I called “mastering the pivot” — being adaptive and responsive to the changing needs of donors and our community. Never could I have imagined just how much we would need to pivot this year. The Nonprofit Leadership Center recently issued a survey asking nonprofit CEOs and executive directors to share how the COVID-19 crisis has initially impacted their organizations and communities, as well as the most critical ways funders and donors can help fill gaps. Nearly 100 nonprofit leaders serving Hernando, Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas and Polk counties responded.
Despite immense pressures and financial
fragility, I’m deeply struck by the sincere optimism and relentless commitment
of our local nonprofit sector. As I share the topline results with you today —
reflections which will be the first of many as we engage nonprofit leaders
throughout this crisis — it’s clear that we’re pivoting together.
The individuals and families that Tampa Bay nonprofits serve have six immediate concerns.
We asked nonprofit leaders to share the top three concerns or needs they’re hearing from the individuals, families and communities they serve. Tampa Bay residents have six major concerns at the outset of the COVID-19 crisis — many of which they rely on for local nonprofits to help navigate or provide.
1. Job loss and financial insecurity
Individuals and families are concerned about providing for themselves and their families because of layoffs, job uncertainty and reduced income. They’re also wondering if and how they will recover.
“Our clients are voicing concerns over jobs, money and household income because many have been laid off or told their employer is closed.”
2. Access to basic necessities to survive
Populations that were already struggling prior to the virus outbreak are more challenged than ever to access basic needs, such as food, shelter, diapers and other essentials. They fear running out of food and supplies.
“Prior to COVID-19, our families struggled with inadequate housing, homelessness, low or no wages, mental health and other adverse factors. As a result of the coronavirus, we will see an increased need for basic items such as food, assistance with housing and technology for online learning.”
3. Mental health
Fears around job loss, finances and accessing basic needs have created social and emotional strife for many people our nonprofits serve. People are anxious about the uncertainty of the future and how long this current state will last.”
“Increased social isolation in a population that’s already marginalized is leading to worse depression, increased risk of suicide and relapses in addiction.”
“People want to know how long this situation will last, what to do if/when their money runs out and how they can remain connected to family and friends.”
4. Educating and caring for children
With schools closed and an influx of parents working at home, community members are concerned about their ability to facilitate online learning for their children, gaining access to technology for e-learning and childcare while working.
“People are worried about the lack of access to digital technology for students to maximize learning online. There’s a need for technology to connect to e-learning and how to use it.”
5. Medical care and contracting the virus
Throughout the community, many people are worried about contracting the virus, especially those who have immune-compromised children or family members. Additionally, many vulnerable populations are worried about delays in medical care and losing insurance.
“There is a fear of being diagnosed and what happens if the virus spreads to an entire facility or family … parents working in essential jobs are concerned about exposure to their family.”
6. Navigating COVID-19 communications
With an explosion of information that changes by the day, individuals and families are feeling overwhelmed by the volume of communications and what they should know.
“Our constituents are concerned about the inability to understand the tremendous amount of information they are receiving from schools and social service providers.”
Every nonprofit has been affected by the coronavirus.
We asked nonprofit leaders to tell us what immediate impact their organization has experienced or expects to experience during the next three months as a result of COVID-19. Every respondent said the virus has negatively impacted their organization. Of note…
92% have had or expect to have a negative financial outlook or budget impact.
83% have canceled or reduced programming/services for their constituents and communities or plan to do so.
81% are changing working arrangements for staff/volunteers (e.g., team working remotely).
72% have canceled or will cancel fundraising events.
49% have seen or expect to see increased staff and volunteer absences.
44% have seen or expect to experience an increased demand for services from clients.
36% have had or expect a disruption in mission-critical third-party supplies/services.
33% have made or expect to make staff reductions/cuts.
Every nonprofit has made changes to operations or service delivery.
We asked nonprofit leaders how, if at all, they have changed the way their nonprofit organization is operating or delivering services. They’ve adjusted their plans in three primary ways.
1. Staff are
working and serving clients remotely.
“Our physical building is closed, so we have moved all our work to virtual, which is a massive shift.”
“All program services, including academic, case management, counseling and therapy, are being delivered remotely through online platforms.”
have reduced hours and/or services.
“We reduced the hours of the center we operate and postponed 12 community events as well as eight training workshops/programs.”
are offering more virtual programming.
“We’ve had to ramp up us the process of digitizing all our information. We are exploring the purchase of software as a service system to allow us to move in this direction.”
Postponed fundraisers and a changing fundraising environment have nonprofit leaders concerned about the future.
asked nonprofit leaders about the immediate financial risks, if any, their
organization is currently facing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. There
are five areas they are most concerned about, not just to survive, but to
thrive after this crisis.
1. Organizational sustainability
Nonprofit leaders are concerned about having the funds to maintain operations and financially survive this crisis. Many say they don’t have adequate reserves for more than a few months, while others fear having to close their doors due to potential loss of revenue. Additionally, as funds decrease, demands for services have increased, putting nonprofit leaders in a very fragile and precarious situation.
“Loss of revenue from cancelled fundraisers and donor support would be devastating and would likely lead to the dissolution of our organization.”
“We have reserves for only a little over a month to carry us if our funders stop paying, but the demand for services will increase.”
2. Paying employees
Nonprofit leaders are overwhelmingly committed to and concerned about caring for and compensating their employees during this challenging time. Many anticipate layoffs and a disruption in payroll.
“Trying to pay our staff with no revenue is very difficult and can only be done for a short time.”
3. Inability to service clients/community
With staff reductions, the inability to gather in groups and canceled fundraisers, nonprofit leaders are concerned about their ability to maintain support for their constituents as needs continue to grow.
“Closure of facilities has prevented the delivery of certain services. There is concern that this problem will exacerbate as the crisis continues.”
4. Delivering services in new and creative ways
The coronavirus crisis has prompted nonprofits to immediately create new and innovative ways to deliver services and operate as staff teams. The majority are implementing virtual opportunities that require unplanned investments to meet increasing technological demands.
“We are finding and creating new methods to reach people in need. Deploying new [mobile resources and a delivery model] require the acquisition of additional resources. We need increased funding for this level of effort.”
“We have incurred additional technology expenses to retrofit employees to work from home.”
5. Fear that funders will divert resources to other causes
Nonprofit leaders, especially those whose organizations provide education, arts and other services not considered basic survival needs (e.g., food and housing) fear funders may redeploy resources they depend on to meet other immediate gaps. They hope funders will keep a wide-angle view of the entire sector to ensure all organizations can continue operating after this crisis is behind us.
“The immediate risk is that funders redirect funds away from our organization to basic needs like food, housing and medical supplies. Our operating budget is only partially funded for the year. We have written grants assuming the balance. If the funding rate is significantly below this target, we will be forced to cancel programming.”
Nonprofit leaders would use additional funding to pay staff,
continue critical services and fund new technology to deliver virtual
asked how they would use additional funding to support any area of their
mission, nonprofit leaders are focused on caring for people.
“I’d use the additional funding to meet the needs of our payroll.”
Additional funding would be helpful to be able to continue services.”
“We could use additional funding to upgrade to better accommodate online programming and virtual learning.”
Nonprofit leaders need new information and training to support them through this uncertain time.
We asked nonprofit leaders what resources, if any, they and their organization need assistance with now. Three areas rose to the top.
want to learn about alternate fundraising strategies to maintain revenue.
want help with maintaining morale during uncertain times.
are interested in better understanding how to fundraise on Facebook and other
with You: NLC’s Response and Commitment to Local Nonprofits
findings from this survey shine a light on the urgent needs of our community
and the fragility of our sector, nonprofit leaders remain hopeful and resilient.
I continue to be struck by this remark from one of our survey respondents:
As we continue our work to develop and connect nonprofit leaders to strengthen organizations and our community, here’s how NLC is responding so we can all pivot together.
Connecting and supporting nonprofit leaders — We’re working with nonprofit CEOs and other leaders to host virtual, small-group gatherings that bring leaders from across our sector together to discuss challenges, brainstorm solutions and share new ideas and answers. Caring for our caregivers has never been more important, and our nonprofit leaders need additional care as they serve on the frontlines.
Serving as a conduit and advocate with funders — On behalf of our entire nonprofit sector, NLC is working with funders to advocate for your needs. Not only are we gathering and sharing the eye-opening realities of what nonprofits are experiencing, we’re collaborating with them as they seek the best path forward to support organizations.
As always, Team NLC is here for our nonprofit community. If there is anything we can do to support you and your nonprofit organization, including one-on-one support, coaching or counsel, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About this Survey
NLC fielded an online Google survey that was open to nonprofit executives in the Tampa Bay region during March 19-24, 2020. Ninety-eight nonprofit leaders responded, including 92 from the five counties NLC serves (Hernando, Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas and Polk). The majority focus on Hillsborough and Pinellas. Nearly 80% of respondents were nonprofit CEOs or executive directors, while the remaining 20% were senior-level leaders (e.g., vice presidents). The majority of respondents represent human service organizations, followed by education, health care and then arts/culture nonprofits.
Charlie Imbergamo | Director of Strategic Programs Resources
As nonprofit professionals scramble to devise new operating plans to serve as many constituents as possible while protecting and caring for employees, the thought of sustainability seems almost quaint. From foundations to individuals and even fees for service, all revenue streams are under extreme pressure. While many nonprofit leaders are thinking about survivability, there are steps leaders can take now to increase the likelihood of sustainability amid these challenging times. In this video, author and nonprofit strategy expert Steve Zimmerman shares the critical actions nonprofit leaders can take NOW to successfully prepare for the future.
After watching this video, you and your nonprofit organization will be prepared to:
Understand your cash position
Assess damage to your revenue streams
Look at your dual bottom line
Include the right stakeholders in the discussion
Download the presentation Steve shares in the webinar above here.
Although the coronavirus pandemic currently prevents us from connecting in person, team collaboration has never been more important, especially for nonprofits. Bringing leaders together virtually is critical as nonprofits navigate important business decisions, a new fundraising environment and the safety of employees and constituents. Here are seven tips for hosting effective online board meetings for nonprofits as you continue to deliver your life-changing mission.
1. Pick the right platform. There are a variety of free or low-cost online video conferencing platforms, including Zoom, GotoMeeting and others. These allow members to see each other from the comfort of their homes while providing audio-only options for those whose technology may be limited. In addition to seeing each other’s faces and body language to enhance team dynamics and effectiveness, you can record virtual meetings and share them with members who may be unable to attend. For staff or board leaders who are new to online meetings, conduct a test meeting to help them get more comfortable with the platform and technology. Note that free plans typically limit the number of users and meeting length.
2. Prepare for the meeting. The meeting host should turn off all computer notifications and close all programs on their computer. This will improve bandwidth and ensure the smoothest transmission of audio and video for participants as you host your online board meeting.
Your CEO or executive director should assign an additional staff member to help board members log into the meeting, provide technical support during the call and monitor the chat box for questions.
3. Plan a 20/20 agenda. We agree with Nonprofit Learning Labs that as you plan your agenda, you should put 20% fewer items on it, allowing 20% more time for the meeting and conversation. Online board meetings often require repetition, clarification and additional time for discussion. Your board chair should ask officers and members in advance to lead various agenda items. During the meeting, he or she can share their screen to present information.
4. Set ground rules. It’s helpful to institute structure when you’re hosting online board meetings. Here are a few guidelines we recommend:
Request that all board members use and turn on their video camera (if they have one), so everyone can be seen and heard during the meeting.
Let participants know that the board chair will recognize them before speaking to avoid everyone talking at once.
Ask everyone to use their mute button when they’re not speaking to silence background noises from pets, kids and others working at home.
Set agreed-upon maximum speaking times for each topic and speaker to ensure you can efficiently and effectively get through your agenda. Assign a staff person to serve as the timekeeper.
5. Do more with less. We recommend that you keep online board meetings to a maximum of 60 to 75 minutes. If board members are in multiple time zones, be sure to list the meeting time in all time zones so everyone knows the correct start time. (Most people only know their own time zone.)
6. Start and finish strong. When hosting online board meetings, it’s important to start and close the meeting with relevant details. To open the call, ask everyone to use the chatbox to say hello. It’s a good way to get people focused and comfortable with technology. During the last five minutes, ask everyone for a closing thought, or consider the rose/thorn technique for what worked well and what still needs improvement.
7. Use tech tools to improve facilitation. Consider using the chatbox, poll and quiz functions to enhance the efficiency of your meeting:
Use the chatbox to ask for a motion, second and other brief responses.
Use a poll for yes/no questions and asking for feedback on proposed actions, such as “What suggestions do you have to improve future online meetings?”
For a mission moment, create a quiz using three fast facts about your organization’s impact, such as the number of people served last year or the cost to help one family.
DO: Use PowerPoint to advance your meeting agenda and highlight key data points being discussed. Use transition slides to keep attendees on track, such as a consent agenda, action items, financial discussion, etc. to frame your meeting.
DO: Allow extra time for questions throughout the meeting. People may need more time to process the information being shared, and it will take longer to hear and respond to questions.
DON’T: Fill slides with text. Just show the key points on your visuals with as few words as possible. Use white backgrounds and easy-to-read black or dark fonts of 14-point or higher. Provide detailed financial statements, committee reports, meeting minutes and other information in advance.
DO: Add a phone number or email to the bottom of each slide for participants to contact regarding technical problems without interrupting the meeting.
DON’T: Use animation in slides. They can interfere with the audio based on each user’s Internet speed. Streaming videos can also be problematic and should be tested in advance.
Charlie Imbergamo | Director of Strategic Programs Resources
Are you feeling overwhelmed by navigating today’s turbulent waters while working remotely? In this webinar, NLC and positive psychology expert Ellen Schuster-Nastir explore strategies you can incorporate into your new daily “normal” to strengthen your resiliency, shift your perspective and work successfully in a new environment.
How to lean into your growth mindset for better focus in times of uncertainty
Tools and actions rooted in positive psychology to support yourself, your team members and your loved ones (Positive psychology is an approach to psychological well-being and happiness, including the five elements of positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, achievement.)
“Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being” by Martin Seligman, psychologist and positive psychology expert
“Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” by Carol Dweck, psychologist and mindset expert
Perspective Wheel: In the inner circle, write down a specific topic or issue you’re facing. In one section of the wheel, write down your immediate beliefs, thoughts and feelings regarding the topic. On the outside of the section, markdown one item you’re seeing in front of you, i.e., window, picture, etc. Assign the section a color. Next, change your body position to look at a different area in your room. Now, think of another way to view the topic. In a different section of the circle, write down the thoughts and feelings that surface when you try a different viewpoint. Assign to this section the item you’re seeing in front of you, along with a color, to differentiate the perspectives from one another. Continue around the circle for as many different ways of viewing the topic as come to mind. Each time, move your body and note the item and color you choose to represent it. When finished, review all the various perspectives and select the one that is most aligned with your positive energy and comfort level and the one you want to adopt. When you begin to slip, doubt or question, review the perspectives and see if you need to try on a different one. Sometimes reviewing the wheel reminds you of why you chose what you did in the first place and helps you stay on track. If not, feel free to shift to another.
Feelings Wheel: There are many feelings wheels available on the Internet. Use the search term “feelings wheel” in your favorite search engine to find a version of the wheel that resonates with you.
Working remotely has been on the uptick in the United States, well before the coronavirus pandemic forced employees from every sector and city to turn their homes into temporary offices. According to the Federal Reserve, the share of the labor force that works from home tripled during the past 15 years. Despite this growing movement, many people still find themselves unsure of how to work from home effectively as COVID-19 forces them to work from their kitchen tables and guest bedrooms, all while kids, pets, other working family members and the chaos of life echoes in the background.
While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, these 10 working from home tips will make the transition more manageable if you’ve never worked remotely or have done so sparingly.
1. Create a workspace that best fits your needs. If possible, find a space in your home that’s devoted to your work where you don’t have to set up or put away everything each day. Craft an area in your home where you can create boundaries for starting and ending your day. This space might be a guest bedroom with a desk, a quiet corner in the house or even a room entirely dedicated to your office. Avoid places like the dining room table or kitchen counter that serve dual purposes and where family members tend to gather.
2. Establish a routine that resembles your office days. Wake up at the same time and get dressed and ready each day. Carve out time for lunch in your schedule or take a break to meet with people virtually when you would have typically had scheduled meetings. When it comes to a “working from home dress code,” causal and comfortable is fine, just keep a consistent routine. That means getting out of your PJs! If you’re on Zoom, FaceTime, hangouts or other visual platforms where you’ll see colleagues and clients, dressing the part is nice, but give yourself and your team permission, where appropriate, to wear comfortable clothing, especially during this time.
3. Craft your working hours based on your personal productivity. Are you at your best early in the morning, or are you better during the middle of the day or evenings? We each have different body rhythms that are now being interrupted by a new normal. Talk with your employer to discuss your needs during this time and how to work from home effectively. Is it possible for you to work at 5 a.m. because you have young children and can focus best when the house is quiet for 2.5 hours? Can you prepare that report at 10 p.m. when you have a second wind and still have it ready for the morning meeting? This new reality won’t last forever. It calls for flexing to the needs of your family and your responsibilities while considering yourself, too.
4. Give others at home a “no interruptions” signal. Help others who are at home while you’re working, especially your kids, know when they can and cannot interrupt you. A great way to do this is to choose something you can wear that is visible from a distance that alerts them when you shouldn’t be disturbed (like when you’re on a conference call, video chat or working on a critical deadline). A red hat, a funky necklace, a scarf around your neck — get creative! Be sure to wear the item you choose, even when you reheat your coffee or take a bathroom break. Once you’re up and out of your office area, it’s natural for others to start asking you questions or trying to engage you. This can take you off track if you’re constructing an email in your head or thinking about the next 10 things you need to do.
If you have young kids at home, have them make you a colorful paper chain from construction paper. Wear it when you’re working, and take it off when things are more relaxed. Consider removing a ring every hour as a visual cue for how much longer until you have time for a break with them.
5. Hold a daily team meeting. If you’re managing remote teams or employees, hold an open conversation with your teammates each morning to hear the top three needs each individual has. A 30-minute call at the beginning of each day can help with communication and camaraderie. Be flexible, given that various team members may be caring for children or an elderly family member. Listen to each other with care and concern, as your most prized possession is your willingness to be flexible with yourself and others.
6. Schedule your breaks. Even when there’s no one depending on you in your house, set your phone timer for every 60 to 75 minutes to get up, stretch, move, breathe and just break away. When you return to your desk after a few minutes, take an additional two minutes to close your eyes, relax your body, take deep breaths and simply concentrate on feeling your breath move in and out of your body. Thoughts come and go — let them, and go back to feeling and hearing your breath. With your eyes open, you’ll feel refreshed, calm and more focused.
7. Talk and walk. To integrate extra movement into your day, consider walking while talking with coworkers or participating on conference calls. Don’t feel chained to your desk. Move! Are you having calls with team members that you can take outside? Grab a pad and pen and sit on your patio or somewhere in nature. Get some Vitamin D!
8. Remove social media and news notifications from your toolbar. While staying up-to-date with the world around us is critical, consider only looking at your social media or news outlets once in the morning, at lunch and after you finish for the day. Doing so more than that, unless it is a part of your job responsibilities, can be a time suck. Music can provide white noise and make you feel as though you’re not isolated in a quiet home.
9. Go easy on yourself as you adapt to a new routine. Nothing is written in stone, and what works for one person may not work for you. Test tactics, see what works or doesn’t work, tweak your arrangement, adapt and repeat until you figure out how to work from home effectively.
10. Remember, others are listening. Finally, in this unchartered time we find ourselves in where children and other family members are at home while we’re working, be aware of your choice of words, intonation and facial and body expressions. If you have children in the house, remember that they are always listening, even when we think they’re out of earshot or absorbed in an activity. They’re looking to you for safety, comfort and reassurance during uncertain times. Be courageous and carefully find moments when you can talk with yourself, other adults and coworkers about the current situation. We all need each other more than ever.
NLC trainer Ellen Nastir, M.Ed., PCC, BCC, CPCC, is a Certified Professional Co-active Coach with advanced training in organization and relationship systems coaching, tension and change management, appreciation at work, and most currently obtaining certification in positive psychology for the workplace. She received her coach training and certification from The Coaches Training Institute, the first to be recognized by The International Coach Federation.
It is hard to believe how much our world and daily routines have changed in such a short period of time. Since my most recent communication about the Nonprofit Leadership Center’s response to COVID-19, we’ve made several decisions and are taking timely actions to support our nonprofit community now.
Status of NLC Events
Like all organizations and businesses, NLC is closely adhering to recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as state and local public health authorities. As a result, we’re postponing all our April classroom training events and will reschedule them as soon as the CDC and government officials declare that it’s safe to gather in groups again. If you’re currently registered for an April event at our training center or at one of our Pinellas County partner locations, we will contact you via email regarding next steps. If you cannot make the rescheduled date once it’s established, we’ll ensure you don’t forfeit your class fees or the opportunity to participate in a future training.
For organizations that have scheduled custom training or individuals who are participating in our peer-based leadership cohorts, we are working to determine the appropriate plans for either rescheduling events or delivering experiences virtually. We will email you directly to communicate about and collaborate on next steps.
As of March 20, 2020, we still plan to gather with nonprofit and business leaders on June 11 for our 10th anniversary Leadership Conference at the Tampa Marriott Water Street. Of course, as we learn more from the CDC and government officials in the coming weeks, we will keep you informed of any changes to the current plan.
Finally, to actively contribute to mitigating the spread of the Coronavirus, Team NLC is working from home until further notice. We remain available and ready to assist you via email, phone and Zoom.
New Support for Nonprofits
As we all find ourselves working in a new environment that’s anything but normal, NLC is partnering with our trainers and subject matter experts to bring you a series of FREE virtual webinars and discussion opportunities throughout the next month. This includes everything from managing remote teams effectively and leading through a crisis to fundraising in uncertain times and pandemic preparedness/response. Please be sure to check your weekly NLC e-newsletter and our Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter pages for dates and registration information. Please also check out our NLC Blog where we’re posting several articles each week from experts on a variety of current topics to help us all through this time.
Additionally, we’re developing a COVID-19 digital hub for nonprofit leaders that’s a one-stop-shop for all the information and resources available to nonprofits. With the deluge of emails from a variety of sources and so much good content to support our sector, we want to help you curate and access it easily. We’ll share this with you next week. Please don’t hesitate to let us know about helpful resources at email@example.com.
Connecting Funders and Nonprofit Leaders
Last but not least, we’ve been in close communication with area funders who want to assist local nonprofits during this challenging time. Yesterday, we issued a survey to nonprofit CEOs and executive directors to explore the realities they’re facing and current needs to inform immediate actions funders might take to support our sector. We’ll also use these insights to create real-time resources from NLC. If you’re a nonprofit CEO or executive director, please take the survey by Tuesday, March 24. We will share the results with you in the coming days as we collect and analyze the responses.
As always, I’m profoundly grateful to serve our nonprofit community and for the leadership and courage you and your organizations continue to show in this time of crisis. Please don’t hesitate to contact our team if there is anything we can do to support you. We are better together.
Steve Zimmerman, Spectrum Nonprofit Services Resources
In the nonprofit sector, the fragility of life is always present. Likewise, for nonprofit leaders, the fragility of our organizations is also always present. Fears of an impending recession and the decline in the percentages of individuals donating to nonprofits have made organizational sustainability a top concern for executive directors for quite some time. But none of us expected the sudden disruption of our lives and society brought on by a pandemic.
As nonprofit professionals scramble to devise new operating plans to serve as many as possible while protecting and caring for employees, the thought of sustainability seems almost quaint. All revenue streams, from foundations to individuals and even fees for service, are under extreme pressure. Indeed, for many executives, thoughts today are not on sustainability, but survivability. And, as always, it’s at these times our constituents need us most.
The initial steps to respond to the pandemic have varied by organization type, with the focus being on humanity – serving our constituents – as well as safety and protection. Arts and culture organizations, educational institutions and other community organizations have closed their doors for extended periods, while several social service organizations continue to operate, balancing constituent service with social distancing. One constant across the sector has been the canceling of spring fundraising events and the upheaval of development plans. As organizations struggle to maintain operations, payrolls or both while revenue is decreasing, there are steps they can take to increase the likelihood of success:
Understand your cash position.
Assess revenue streams and damage.
Look at the dual bottom line.
Include everyone in the discussion.
Let’s explore each of these steps.
Understand Your Cash Position
Cash is king. With expenses continuing and revenue on hold, knowing your cash position serves as a foundation for action. Certain common ratios like the quick ratio or current ratio calculate whether your organization has enough cash to pay its bills today, but they don’t provide guidance on how long it can weather this disruption. The best ratios for that help with understanding your liquid reserves:
This ratio calculates how many months of savings your organization has if it operates at its current rate and receives no additional income. The numerator subtracts restricted cash and receivables, assuming your organization will not be able to perform the work necessary to release those revenues. The denominator is simply your annual budgeted expenses divided by 12 months. This is the purest form of a reserve. It allows leadership to understand how much time they have to stabilize the organization. For many organizations, this is somewhere between two weeks and four months.
For organizations that have ceased operations but are committed to maintain payroll as long as possible, a separate calculation may be useful, which only includes essential expenses in the denominator (payroll, health insurance and occupancy-related costs):
This formula lets leadership see how long their current position allows them to maintain these basic expenses. In this ratio, we’ve excluded receivables, but they can be included if your organization believes there is a high likelihood of collecting them.
These formulas are the simplest way of calculating and monitoring the organization’s savings. A more strategic approach would be to prepare or update your organization’s cash flow projections for the next six months, showing expected inflows and outflows of cash. With the ratios as a foundation and the cash flow projection as a tool, leadership can work with the board to build scenarios. At the very least, leadership can monitor the urgency of the situation and make informed decisions about how to continue.
Revenue Streams and Damage
The formulas above focus on the organization’s expense side, assuming no additional income. Nonprofits must also pay attention to revenue. Many foundations are attempting to continue grantmaking, and many local government agencies are seeking to fund expanded social service activities for vulnerable populations with emergency dollars. Therefore, revenue projections that take into consideration our new reality can be inputted into the cash flow projection for a more realistic picture. While it is conservative to assume your organization will not receive any new income, acting on a “worst-case scenario” does not necessarily lead to strategic or beneficial decision making.
Revisiting revenue streams also allows leadership the opportunity to discuss revised plans and focus on those efforts where the organization has the strongest relationships and greatest likelihood of securing funds. For example, some special events have already moved online, with operas live streaming performance and social service agencies holding online auctions and sending videotaped messages to supporters. While less revenue has been raised, there may have also been fewer expenses. This is also the time to identify areas where board members might have relationships and could meaningfully engage in sharing the fundraising workload.
When cash gets tight, the financial bottom line becomes readily apparent. But in stressful times, it’s important to consider both bottom lines: impact and financial. Especially if challenging decisions need to be made about where to focus, consider the impact of each program and fund the highest-impact programs first. This is often a difficult discussion. Everything an organization does has value. But given the current situation in which we find ourselves, which aspect of the organization has the most value today? Are there longer-term programs or projects that could be put on hold? Could unrestricted resources and staff be transferred to efforts with the highest impact, such as direct services? Could reducing expenditures on lower impact programs allow your organization to build cash reserves?
This is especially helpful if cuts need to be made. One common response to a crisis is to implement a straight percentage cut across all activities; however, this is not the most strategic decision. Yes, it avoids conflict, but focusing on programs where there is an intersection of organizational strength and pressing constituent need is essential. Not only does this allow organizations to most effectively have impact and accomplish their missions with available resources, but it also helps make the case for increased support to funders.
The matrix map visual is a helpful way to highlight both the impact and profitability of an organization’s programs and look holistically at how each organizational program contributes to impact and financial viability. While the process of completing a detailed map can take some time, a rapid version can be created in an afternoon. Remember, the map is a representation of the business model used to inform decision making, not a 100% accurate picture. In some cases, some information is better than complete information, especially when the goal is to bring others along in the discussion and make decisions. This is one of those cases.
Everyone in the Discussion
Speaking of bringing others along, there are no “right” answers to these challenging questions, and ideas for sustaining the organization know no positional boundaries. Engaging everyone in these candid conversations can often surface new approaches or meaningful strategies. That said, programmatic staff may be overwhelmed and overworked responding to the crisis, and leadership will need to decide whether it is appropriate to add to their workload by bringing them into the conversation. However, our default position is that nonprofits are community organizations responding to a community challenge, and they benefit from the input of close community members during these difficult times. Our desire is for everyone to have a voice.
Determining the organization’s cash position, described above, will inform how much time leadership has to meaningfully engage a broad group of people in a discussion. At a minimum, however, board and senior leadership should be involved in surfacing potential solutions. Ideally, these positions will be informed by staff and constituents. Especially for social service organizations, it is important that the needs of those being served are well known and represented in the discussions.
Again, the easy
solution in these times is for a small group at the top of an organization’s
leadership to come together and make decisions, but this group may not be as
well informed about constituent needs as others. By opening the discussion,
unexpected opportunities might surface. Additionally, by sharing the complexity
of the decision to be made and the options to consider, leadership helps to
build community and buy-in for implementation.
Our last point
may be the most important. Often in times of crisis when leadership is busy
trying to serve constituents and make informed decisions to save their
organization, communication can lapse. Leaders may feel they have “nothing new”
to say or they might not yet have a “path forward” or solution for the
organization and therefore don’t communicate to key stakeholders.
Unfortunately, while understandable, this is the wrong course of action.
organizations are expressions of our humanity – people coming together to build
stronger, more enriching and more equitable communities. By expressing the
hardship that our organizations are experiencing and the difficult choices that
must be made, we invite others to participate in the process.
We are all joined together in this time, living through a pandemic the likes of which none of us have ever seen. This is especially true of donors. Helping donors understand firsthand what your constituents and the organization face allows them to support you in the most effective manner. We cannot only talk with stakeholders when things are going well. Helping everyone understand that the organization is maximizing impact and leading with its values – with the needs of our constituents and staff front-of-mind – strengthens the connection and relationship donors feel with the mission. This connection will be necessary for organizations to survive this shock and ultimately be able to thrive once again.
Time is of
None of the steps here are easy, especially in a time of crisis. Given this rapidly evolving pandemic, it is tempting to put off decision making to see how the situation progresses. One lesson from the Great Recession, however, was that those organizations that assessed their situation earlier were able to make strategic decisions which resulted in less severe measures later. Nonprofit leaders face competing demands and priorities as they deliver on their missions. By inviting others in, communicating clearly, looking at the organization holistically, and understanding where we’re starting from financially, leadership can attempt to spread the workload, build commitment, surface strategies and implement solutions to help their organizations – and our communities – survive and, once again, eventually thrive.
Steve Zimmerman is the Principal of Spectrum Nonprofit
Services and the co-author of The Sustainability Mindset and Nonprofit Sustainability. He can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Health advisories from federal, state and local officials in response to the Coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19) have resulted in school closures, event cancellations, travel bans and many other containment measures across our nation. [You can read NLC’s response here.] Nonprofit special events and fundraising activities are among the many events that have been canceled or postponed, representing the potential loss of critical dollars to fuel important missions and community work. While we don’t yet know how this will impact nonprofit organizations, there are steps nonprofit leaders can take now to maintain relationships with donors and mitigate the impact of any potential revenue loss.
1. Keep donors informed. Be proactive in personally communicating with donors, sponsors, vendors and volunteers about your current and upcoming events. Send emails, post on social media and share any changes to your operations or events on your website. Let donors know what your organization is doing to protect the safety of everyone you serve. Thank them for their financial support, which is critical to your ability to respond in a timely manner and continue providing services.
2. Ask permission. If you postpone an event for which donations have already been received, ask donors and ticket holders for permission to apply these funds to the rescheduled event. If the event is canceled, ask them for permission to apply their gift directly to mission-critical services. If donors request a refund, send it promptly and cheerfully. Let donors know you value them and hope they will support a future event.
3. Host an online auction. Consider hosting an online auction if you’ve already secured donated items for a canceled event. There are several companies that manage online auctions. Do some research to find one that works best for your organization. Take photos of each item, post them online and invite donors to bid. You can schedule item pick-up in accordance with closures impacting access to your facilities.
4. Engage your top supporters in peer-to peer-fundraising. Ask board members, volunteers and your most passionate supporters to assist you in continuing your mission during these uncertain times by hosting a Facebook Fundraiser on your behalf. This enables them to support your cause and share their passion with their networks by inviting friends and family to make a gift.
5. Host a “non-event.” Consider converting an in-person event to a virtual one. Sometimes referred to as a “non-event,” this involves sending an “invitation” to past and prospective event supporters asking for a gift in lieu of attending the event. Be clever in asking for gifts that may replicate what donors might have spent to attend, such as a babysitter, or would have contributed at the event. Keep the focus on your mission and who their generosity will benefit (it’s NOT about your fundraising goals).
6. Ask for one-time gifts. Reach out individually to long-standing donors to ask for a one-time gift to ensure the continuation of services if revenue is lost or delayed due to canceling or postponing a major fundraising event.
7. Send donor love. Use this time to engage board and staff members in thanking donors for their loyalty and wishing them well during the crisis. Calls, personalized letters, hand-written notes and customized video messages sent via text or email are great ways to let donors know how important their support is to the people you serve, especially during times of crisis. While acknowledging the seriousness of this outbreak, don’t hesitate to be clever in showering your supporters with some heartfelt donor love.
9. Look to the future. Now may be a good time to research new grant opportunities or fundraising strategies that you haven’t had time to pursue. Examples include learning more about generational differences and how they impact giving, best practices for direct mail, and updating your case for support. All of these things will help your organization raise more money in the future.
10. Wash more than just your hands. Take time to clean up donor records, double-check addresses and remove inactive records to maintain an accurate database of past and present donors, volunteers and sponsors. Making these improvements now will save time, reduce costs and improve results when events and communications return to normal again.
A word about capital campaigns: If your organization is involved in or about to launch a capital campaign, consider how the Coronavirus may impact the campaign plan, including donors’ ability to contribute and the best time to ask. Consider utilizing an external campaign consultant to provide advice and guidance regarding these decisions, including the importance of maintaining donor engagement and campaign momentum.
As news about the Coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to evolve, the health and safety of our NLC staff, trainers, partners, nonprofit leaders and all the individuals and families our sector serves is our top priority. Because we share in the collective duty to strengthen and care for our Tampa Bay community, we want you to know how the Nonprofit Leadership Center is navigating this time of uncertainty.
NLC is closely adhering to recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as local and state public health authorities. We also have open lines of communication with the building management office where our training center is located at The Towers at Westshore. As of March 13, the NLC office and training room will remain open during regular business hours, and we currently plan to hold all events as scheduled. Of course, as we closely monitor the ongoing situation and communicate with health experts, we will remain flexible and responsive to do the right thing for our community and virus containment efforts. If there are any changes to our classroom or custom training schedules, we will provide updates immediately via email and our social media channels.
meantime, we want you to be aware of four things we’re doing to ensure the
safety and care of all our participants, staff and stakeholders:
We are disinfecting all workspaces daily according to CDC protocols, including offices, common areas, “hard and grab” surfaces and our training space.
Hand-sanitizer and tissues are available at all classroom training tables. We ask that anyone who is experiencing symptoms of illness or who may be at higher risk for the virus due to current health or age not attend class. Please do not hesitate to contact us at email@example.com or 813-287-8779 if you are registered for a class and cannot be present due to the above circumstances, employer restrictions or personal preference. We will make sure you do not forfeit your class fees or the opportunity to participate in a future training. We also ask that everyone in good health who attends upcoming events follow all the recommendations provided by the CDC, including washing hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
Because the nonprofits we serve have mounting demands to support constituents in need while facing event cancelations that affect fundraising and available resources, we are reaching out to local nonprofit CEOs to connect as a sector and share solutions to emerging challenges. We will keep you apprised of these conversations and the approaches or actions that emerge to benefit all organizations and constituents.
Finally, we are hosting a two-part disaster preparedness series on April 1 and 8 to help nonprofit leaders better prepare for disasters and emergencies — from issues like what we’re facing with the Coronavirus to hurricanes, leadership crises and other challenging situations. The course addresses both personal and organizational preparedness. You can learn more about this opportunity here.
Leading in times of uncertainty is always a challenge. We stand ready to assist you and encourage you to be courageous in doing what is right for your families, your organizations and our community. We are always better together!