I see many not-for-profits being uncertain about their future now, as their activities are being canceled one by one. How can you keep on core staff, if project activities cannot be implemented? Do donors approve of covering such costs even though you cannot deliver what was agreed to? Or has your government opened up support for such kind of loss of income? Are there alternative ways to achieve agreed goals under the current circumstances? How can you keep up the good work in a crisis like the one we face today globally?
The first thing to look into is your commitments. What promises did you make to your supporters and donors? That is, what do your approved project proposals (or amendments) say you will do and achieve? You may have planned for activities that are now no longer feasible, due to the COVID-19 restrictions.
Many organizations are shifting to online. Meetings, trainings, lectures – much can be done online indeed. But maybe your target group is not online. Or maybe in your country Internet is still expensive, not available everywhere, or unreliable, perhaps also due to power cuts. Maybe online is not a good alternative for your activity and does not help you achieve your set aims.
Maybe you need to think differently. What about radio? Print? Television? Maybe you need to think about some altogether different way of communicating, if that is what is involved in your work.
Are you still relevant?
You might want to double-check that your planned activities, and the goals you were aiming to achieve, are still relevant to your community. It is very well possible that the crisis is having an impact on your target group that needs addressing first.
Be open to re-examine the goals you have committed to. Ask your stakeholders about their most pressing needs at this very moment. Be flexible to change your approach and plans completely if they are no longer really relevant. Or develop additional aims and activities in order for your original plans to remain feasible.
For instance, maybe you were focusing on providing girls with access to education. You might be able to continue that activity through radio or online tools. But in order to be effective, you might need to develop activities targeting other people in the household, too, so that your girls can focus and learn.
Upscale and intensify
The crisis may make your work extra relevant, for instance if you were combating domestic violence or were addressing loneliness. You might indeed need to adjust your approach. But, more importantly, you might need to intensify your work or expand the target group now that more people are in self-isolation or stuck at home with (potential) abusers.
Reach out to your funding partners
Ask your funding partners for advice if you need to downscale, adjust, re-orient or upscale your work. Do they have special conditions that apply now? Is something in the making? Are extra resources becoming available that you could make use of? Do they know of others who might step in with the funding, equipment, or human resources you need?
Be aware that your funding partners are partners, not walking wallets. Engage them in your dilemmas and in the questions you face. They may not have extra money for you. They may not be able to allow you to pay your staff from their grant if the activities are canceled. But they certainly will want to assist where they can. And they may have access to people and information that might be helpful for you.
Check what your government is doing
Some countries are developing instruments to support organizations and companies that are affected by the COVID-19 measures. Remember, this situation is unprecedented to the authorities, too. It takes time to develop such instruments, and they may not get it right the first time.
The Netherlands is developing some measures that might also help not-for-profits mitigate their income losses. But at this moment it is unclear what will be supported and how you can qualify.
If your country can implement economic measures, be sure to check what instruments there are. As a not-for-profit you might benefit from instruments that target employers, for instance. Do your research or ask someone to help you with that.
If the worst comes to the worst, you may need to use your reserves. This is exactly the kind of situation for which you have saved these reserves (unless you earmarked them for other purposes). So now is the time to be happy about your foresight!
If you do not have reserves, or only very limited ones, you may now need to cut costs. For example, if you cannot implement the activities your donors agreed to fund (or alternative ones they agree to), if your donors are not able to cover the running costs during this period, or if your government is not able to help out financially.
This is one of the hardest things I have had to do. Make sure you have someone to support you if you need to do this. You need an expert, of course. But you also need someone who helps you as a person to go through this. Make sure you approach the task from a business perspective. Your job, your responsibility, is to keep the organization alive. You might need to let some people go, so that the organization can survive. This is a business decision. Your business needs should inform who you cannot let go and who you must let go.
In order to take any sound decisions, you must think ahead. You must develop several scenarios (if this, then that) for different possible developments.
What if …
- there will be a full lock down?
- it will last months rather than weeks?
- our mission is outdated after everything goes back to normal?
- our organization can boom after everything goes back to normal?
What do we need to have in place for the team, and for the target groups and stakeholders, in this or that situation? Who do we need in this case or in that case? What can we prepare already? What must we do now, urgently?
Develop scenarios with your management team and/or your board.
Bring as many people on board as you can. The more brains, and the more ideas, the better. Be transparent where that is possible. Be reliable.
Now is the time when your values and principles will need to be visible. When you need to take the lead in line with the values and mission of your organization. You need to show up for your team and your dream today, to define what tomorrow’s options will be. Now is when you decide if and how you can keep up (and improve) the good work you do.
Need more inspiration?
If you have a dilemma you want to share, feel free to e-mail me.
If you want to further discuss funding in the current situation, sign up for one of my upcoming masterclasses Fundraising in times of uncertainty. Tentative dates are 2, 6 and 7 April 2020. If you are interested, send me an e-mail or add a comment to this post so I can send you the registration link.
If you are interested in joining my online course on Project Design, please read more about that here. We start on 12 April 2020!