More important than ever:
Above all, Connect
I woke this morning to the news that my friend Roxy, teaching in Uganda, is going to be evacuated along with thousands of other Peace Corps volunteers, due to COVID-19. It’s not clear what the afternoon news cycle will bring, or the evening’s. Hour by hour, there is a new closure, a new worry, a new warning. We’ve all learned the phrase, “an abundance of caution.”
Social media ramps up our fears in circumstances like this. But it also has the potential to connect us to one another, to disseminate creative ideas, to instill hope, and share encouragement.
Social media ramps up our fears in circumstances like this
We work with NGOs who rely on funding from foundations, individuals, governments so they can do hard, important work. I’d like to share four things that have been on my mind about what our clients—and others–can do in the face of a situation that deserves to be called a global crisis:
- Communicate today from the top with your funders. Be in touch with top funders to let them know how you plan to operate. Choose ten or so funders. Send an email that talks about how services will continue—or how they will be disrupted. Do not ask for something, but don’t be surprised if funders are looking for ways to help organizations like yours that are forward-thinking and are communicating effectively. In the email, identify a highly-placed point person (President/CEO, Chief Development Officer, Chief of Staff) to call any questions, ideas, or concerns. Keep the lines of communication open.
- Funders also will want to know how your staff is coping, because people are the heart of any NGO. What are you putting in place to help your staff be healthy, safe, and productive? Who is thinking through a one-month to one-year plan to help your staff do the important work that must be done? What are your plans if staff cannot work, if your workforce is down by 10-25% in the next month, for example? Let funders know how you are accepting responsibility for sustaining your workforce.
- Your staff will need more from you in the days ahead to handle their responsibilities. We can’t simply tell staff to work from home and automatically expect the same level of productivity. Some of us are set up to work from home, with the technology, quiet workspace, and mindset to get work done outside the office. Others of us will face huge challenges when working at home: young children who are home from school for the month; the fears we have of an elderly parents being affected; despair when faced with a 24-hour news about the virus; the anxiety and depression that can go along with isolation and uncertainty. Even the consummate professional has to shift to a new mindset of working remotely—in the backdrop of an uncertain and worrisome public health crisis. It’s time to build a reserve fund, be expansive about paid time off, and overcommunicate with staff.
- Be in the business of uncertainty and constant learning. You will have countless unanswered questions, hour by hour. Demonstrate that you know what those questions are, and how you are seeking to answer them. When we acknowledge that we do not know something in a crisis, in a calm and dignified way, we often inspire trust. We have said what is true. Leaders have to make decisions with minimal information, and this is a great example of a moment when there is minimal—and shape-shifting—information. Be visible about what you know, what you don’t know, and how you will handle uncertainty.
We have such confidence in the work of our clients, and of the nonprofit sector overall, to rise to the occasion. We invite your ideas on what strategies are working for you. Let’s stay strong and focused. A broken world is counting on us.
If we can assist in any way, in preparing crisis communications with funders or helping you with revised fundraising strategies for the weeks ahead, please be in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.