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Tuesday, May 5, 2020

How to Protect the Health and Viability of Your Nonprofit


In the early days of the pandemic, many nonprofits received a label – essential or non-essential. The nonprofits providing direct pandemic relief shot to the front of the line of funding opportunities and general support, while many nonprofits designated nonessential found themselves in a holding pattern.

Nonprofits that thrive off volunteers and in-person programming, like Habitat-for-Humanity (essential) and Make-A-Wish (profoundly impactful), acted quickly and will weather this storm, but what about smaller nonprofits that don’t provide direct relief – arts organizations, literacy programs, or nature conservatories? If your nonprofit is nonessential, how can you continue your mission in the midst of a global pandemic?   

Whether you’re on the frontlines or not, there are steps you can take to protect the health and viability of your nonprofit:

1. Set a Communication Strategy
When something bad happens, it’s easy to stick your head in the sand. If you feel like your nonprofit is nonessential or doesn’t fix the bad thing that happened, it’s especially tempting to remain silent, but silence won’t fix anything and could damage you in the long run. It’s not if you should communicate, but how. 
 
First, it’s important to be clear and concise in your communication. Don’t use fluffy words or overly evocative language. There’s already so many things to read, and time is precious. Be clear and specific on what you need and why it’s important. 

Be positive. We’ve all had enough bad news for a lifetime. Even if what you have to say is hard, think about how you can use your words to bring light to a dark situation.

Finally, show empathy and gratitude to your audience, as many may be materially impacted by COVID-19. They may have lost a loved one or may have been infected and still recovering from the experience. Ask your audience how they’re coping and managing through this time. Listen to them. Thank them for sharing and listening to you.

2. Lean into the Now
If at all possible, don’t fight the virtual wave. If you could benefit from virtual platforms like Zoom, learn it now and lean in. Before the pandemic hit, my daughter danced in a local ballet company. Within 24 hours, their entire season of performances and summer workshops were cancelled. While the organization was initially hesitant, they learned the Zoom platform and resumed classes. After a few equipment orders and rearranging our furniture, my daughter was en pointe in a week. 

3. Try Something New
If it supports your mission and doesn’t require a substantial budget, this might be a good time to try out that new idea or project. You might consider collaborations with other organizations where you feel you both can benefit and bring attention to your mission from new audiences.

4. Capture the Story
Don’t forget to document what is happening to you and your nonprofit right now. Capture the stories of those you serve and those that support your mission, even if you can’t use them right now. There may be pandemic-fatigue after this is over, but one day, your supporters and donors might want to know what you did during this time and what stories you have to tell.

5. Stay Strong and Stay on Mission
Now is the time to stay strong and work hard to accomplish your mission. You may have to do more work with less resources, but you may be surprised at the results. Lean into the core of your mission and how you can ensure the programmatic elements are still being carried out, even if it looks different than you imagined.

Douglas Feil is the Chief Programs Officer at National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc. The mission of NBCF is to help women now, by providing help and inspiring hope to those affected by breast cancer through early detection, education, and support services. Visit www.nbcf.org to learn more.

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