July 21, 2021

Every Crisis Teaches Nonprofits the Same Lesson

Have you learned It?

The pattern is consistent.
First, a crisis occurs.*
Then, shock and confusion follow.
And before the fog clears and while conditions remain uncertain, nonprofit leaders choose to act or wait.

The Acting Choice

Nonprofit leaders who act recognize that they have agency, options, and a future to build, despite the circumstances.
In the early months of the pandemic, three groups in St. Petersburg joined forces to create a cultural plan for the City. Some city leaders questioned why we acted during the crisis. The answer was to take advantage of people working from home and to prepare for when the city opened.
Because they acted, the city’s moving toward their vision instead of talking about it.
But don’t rely just on this example.
Here’s a link from a study colleague Gail Bower and I completed in 2020, What’s (Really) Happening With Nonprofit Revenue? The “Real” Answers. It’s worthy of a read to glimpse nonprofit leaders acting mid-lockdown. And, check this previous study completed after the Great Recession to learn how nonprofits innovated in it. You’ll see the same pattern.

What if You Don’t Choose Act?

Nonprofit leaders that don’t act default to wait.
Choosing this option means you:
  • Focus on getting through instead of moving forward,
  • Experience less than your full power, and
  • Appear inconsistent as you change your mind responding to the news, and
  • Risk being “done to,” instead of doing
On 9-11, I was on an extended trip to Europe. When I returned, the commitments I made before departing fell apart. I didn’t act. I swirled and dabbled in options, trying to find my footing in the rapidly changing stream. I missed a growth opportunity and vowed never again.
The outcomes of waiting, at best, results in stalled growing and missed lessons.

You Don’t Have to Repeat the Lesson.

If this crisis is your first professional leadership crisis, and you instinctively moved toward action, congratulations. If you waited, decide you will act during your next crisis.*

While Each Crisis Bears a Different Name, the Same Choice Remains

Every crisis brings with it a river of opportunity. Even though your standard river of opportunities gets blocked, new streams form.
How can you catch this bounty?
Begin with the end in mind. The length and depth of each crisis will vary. Counterintuitively, your best option to thrive is to figure out how to move toward your goals in your new circumstances. Deciding what to do can be a significant challenge.

The Real Challenge in a Crisis

Once you decide you will act, you will need to pick which actions make the most sense; if this seems daunting, you’re right. Picking what to do is the hardest part of acting. It’s also a reason you may not have chosen to act in the past. You didn’t know what to do.
Success here requires:
  • vision clarity
  • a solid understanding of your strategy’s essence
  • five to eight options
  • an analysis of the risk and benefits of each option, and
  • last but not least, guts.
You don’t have to use outside nonprofit expertise to make this decision, but it’s a smart investment. Investing will move you faster to act, cart away some of the emotional quandaries you face, and help you to objectively explore which options provide the most benefits and least risks.
To get started on your own or with expertise, explore these five questions.
  1. What new opportunities exist?
  2. Do you have a back burner activity to undertake to help you rebound?
  3. Who might be newly interested in your cause?
  4. Consider what your loyal donors need to know. What will you invite them to do?
  5. What program, project, or habits might you jettison?

Deciding to Act During a Crisis is Leading with Vision, Not Fear

You can do it!
I’d love to help you act with confidence in this or your next crisis. If you’d like to chat about how I can help, here’s my meeting link.
*The crisis varies between community-wide calamities such as weather events, health incidents, political unrest, and attacks to small local events, such as a board won’t authorize needed repairs on a building.
Karen Eber Davis

Karen Eber Davis provides customized advising and coaching around nonprofit strategy and board development. People leaders hire her to bring clarity to sticky situations, break through barriers that seem insurmountable, and align people for better futures. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.


If you appreciate these Added Value posts, please consider subscribing.

By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: Karen Eber Davis Consulting. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact

Latest Posts