March 12, 2020

3 Tips to Lead Your Nonprofit with Vision, Not Fear

Man sitting at desk with cellphone in handHere is a collection of tips for leading your nonprofit during a crisis.

Communications: What to Say

You’re a leader, so you’ll want to communicate that you’re monitoring the situation. At each step of the way, decide:
  • What needs communicating?
  • Who needs each message?
For instance:
  • Supporters need to know your policy about large events.
  • Supporters will be curious about if it’s safe to come to your site. Share your sick leave and sanitation procedures with them. Southwest Airlines just sent me an email about how they clean their planes.
  • Your board and staff will be curious about your continuity plan if a senior leadership member tests positive.
  • Staff will be anxious about payroll and will benefit from a reminder about your sick-day policy.
  • Everyone needs information about where you’ll post updates–and hope!
In addition to what you think of, collect questions from your audiences and provide frequently asked question answers.

Act to Move Forward

Keeping the Office Open

How about using the US Bank model? Divide your staff into teams. Half of the team works remotely for two weeks. Then switch teams, so the first work-at-home team comes to the office. Using this set-up, you reduce the risk of in-office contagion, having everyone quarantined at once, practicing social distancing, and minimizing disruptions.

Online Meetings

You’ll want to stay in touch if you need to shut down or split your physical office. I’m a fan of Zoom.

Plan for Downtime

Even if you continue all of your activities, you already see reduced participation— folks stay away to reduce their exposure. In their ensuing downtime, some people will write novels, and others will learn a foreign language. What if you made this downtime a learning time, too?

Use Downtime for Planning

Since nonprofits are often short of planning time, what if you and your leaders took advantage of this experience to plan? Make a wish list of tasks to tackle.
For instance, evaluate and plan:

How About You?

What are you doing that is most helpful now? Let me know. I’ll compile and share the thoughts of leaders.
Stay well, and remember you’ve survived and thrived through hardships.
Yes, this crisis is different. However, the skills you learned already will serve you well now.
Got questions you want to explore? Sign up for a chat with Karen.


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.


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