It’s perfectly possible to have a nonprofit life without big crises. Crises that threaten the existence and future of your organisation. Taking care of money, caring for your people and building strong relations with partners and stakeholders are key in avoiding real crises. But what if you haven’t been able to avoid a crisis? What to do then? How to handle a crisis in your nonprofit? 

I have a few tips for you if you face a crisis in your nonprofit.

Don’t panic

This seems a silly tip, and also an impossible one. It’s by top tip, nonetheless. So please try to think of ways you can get out of panic mode. You can use any tools you use for self-care and handling ‘normal’ stress, like going out for a walk, drinking a hot cocoa, or whatever helps you clear your brain and activate your body in a different way.

Don’t show panic

If you are not able to stop feeling panicky, invest all of your energy into keeping up your appearances. You’re not serving your team by inviting them into your panic state. Because if you as a leader are freaking out – this gives your team certainty that all is lost. And a team that knows all is lost (even if it isn’t) is lost itself. 

Look at your people

How is your team doing? How’s everyone individually? Who has bandwidth for some extra tasks so that you could reorganise your own calendar? Which team members need special attention if the crisis breaks out? Who’s extra vulnerable in the crisis you face? How can you take care of your team members? What do they need from you most? How can you help them take care of themselves?

Look at the numbers

Your crisis may not be a funding crisis but a reputation crisis. Even so, take a look at your numbers now. Because a reputation crisis may well spiral into a funding crisis, if you’re not careful. So you’ll need to know where you stand financially.

  • What’s the size of your buffer? I mean, the number. But also: what does this buy you? How much time does your buffer buy you? Three months? Six? More? Less? 
  • Your cash flow. Do you have enough money coming in to pay for what’s needed? Can you speed up incoming amounts by being a good grantee? Can you delay payments or decrease costs?
  • What’s your pipeline of proposals pending at donors? Do you have a campaign ready to launch? (If you’re facing a reputation crisis, you may want to reach out to the donors or delay or adjust the campaign accordingly). 



Look at laws and regulations

What are relevant laws and regulations for you in this situation? For instance, if you need to terminate contracts – what’s required? Or if you’re facing a reputation crisis, what are laws or regulatory organisations that could be helpful to you? 

Reach out

Whatever crisis you’re facing: reach out to your key donors and stakeholders pro-actively. Involve the board where possible and needed to alleviate the burden on the day-to-day leadership. It’s important to be transparent and honest with your (funding) partners and stakeholders about what’s going on. Including your own role in creating the crisis, however small you may think it’s been. Remember that things that are clear to you, may not be clear to others. And refer back to the no panic tips above.  

Make a plan

Using your insights and information from all these steps, make a plan. What’s your next best step? And the one after that? What are small steps or wins you can celebrate? How? Plan for your next steps once the crisis is over. Make sure it includes a proper reflection!

Make a plan – 2

As I mentioned, taking care of money, caring for your people and building strong relations with partners and stakeholders are key in avoiding real crises. You can plan ahead for all of these things.

And you can also create crisis management plans and contact lists ahead of time. 

Do whatever it takes before a crisis hits, or after you’ve handled one, to be better prepared next time. 

How I can help

Check out my free resource: Ten Esssential Strategic Documents Your Nonprofit Needs to Have

If you would like simple, practical steps to set up and organise your finance & admin foundations, you can get a bundle of six practical and short workshops here:

The bundle includes a workshop on cash flow projection, that you could also purchase separately:

If you’d like to set up your nonprofit for success through practical steps covering money, team, systems and projects, get one of my planners via Amazon. (You can get a sneak peek here.) Each planner covers 13 weeks with thematic actions you can take to build your nonprofit stronger. There is a full colour version and a black & white version.

You can find them here:

The planners have the same content, so it doesn’t matter which one you pick. If you’re not US-based, I recommend copying the description and name of the planner you want, and pasting this in a search on your local amazon website for lower shipping costs.

Watch my video Money mindset in nonprofits my personal take on handling a crisis in your nonprofit.

You can also check out my YouTube channel here, and find a collection of videos on nonprofit operations, including money mindset topics and handling crises.

Want to know more and ask questions?

If you want to discuss this more – jump into my nonprofit support community and get input from a wide range of peers and from myself!

Here is how you can join my free nonprofit support community

You can join my free nonprofit support community on the Heartbeat platform here. This group is a safe space for open exchange and discussion on potentially sensitive topics like boards, nonprofit management, fundraising, etc. You can visit the community via a browser or via an app. Here is the link to download the Heartbeat chat app in the Google Play store.

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