Coming Out of a Crisis
Coming Out of a Crisis
By Janetta Cravens, vice president of programs, OKCNP
With President Trump’s announcement of his 3-phase plan to reopen businesses and Governor Stitt’s announcement of his own plan for Oklahoma to begin “phase 1” on May 1, nonprofit organizations are beginning to ask what coming out of quarantine will mean for their agencies.
Many nonprofit agencies never “closed” – they just adjusted their operations, worked from home, and changed their delivery methods. To call what we do next “reopening” does not acknowledge how much harder our staff and boards worked to stay open and support what was needed to work differently. Nonprofit organizations delivered vital programs during this time while also suffering financially and making significant adjustments to their operations. According to national research by Charity Navigator and Reuters News, 83% of nonprofits reported to have suffered financially during the COVID-19 pandemic with an average decline of 38% loss in income. At the same time, 50% also reported to an increase in the demand to their programs with 31% reporting no change. That means that 81% of our nonprofit organizations did as much or more programming but with less income to support it. About 14% had to lay off staff and 33% reported a supply chain disruption. That we have persevered through the last couple of months shows that we are a mighty resilient, creative, and resourceful sector operating with some very good leadership.
But, we aren’t done yet and as your agency starts to plan for what a post-COVID reality looks like, the conversations you have in the days and weeks ahead may be just as important as the ones you led going into this situation. There is a more comprehensive manual coming, so stay tuned, but for now here are some key questions to start thinking about with your staff, team, or board.
- How do we make it safe?
The days and weeks ahead we will need to create a new plan for what to do and how to make it safe for our employees, our clients, and the community partners we engage with on a regular basis. Customers and employees will move about more freely, but with a great deal of caution and reluctance to reengage. This is what the team at VitalSmarts, who shaped the books Crucial Conversations and Thanks for the Feedback, call the “compromise with the virus” phase. We will need to take considerable precautions people will be hyper vigilant since the virus may be “seasonal” and may resurge. Our people will operate with an awareness that it may always lurking.
To make it safe, our agencies have to narrow the gap between the danger that people feel and the safety that they need in order to feel that they can reengage with us – and thus trust our agencies. In this era trust and confidence is going to be closely tied with the ability to deliver on both physical and psychological safety.
How do we make sure that our employees and customers or clients are safe and feel safe? We need to ensure that they are actually, physically safe, which may come by reinforcing sanitation and social distancing protocols. But, we also have to make sure that people feel safe. Perception is reality in this scenario and is equally important and the psychological perception of safety matters just as much.
For example, the other day I ordered take out from a local restaurant I want to support. I ordered on line from the comfort and safety of my house, I paid for it with a new app that they had made available so that I didn’t have to touch a checkout screen or hand an employee my credit card. And, I drove to the restaurant and could stay in my car while an employee brought me the food I’d ordered. These were all good measures that reinforced safety. But, when the employee brought me the meal, safely tied with a plastic sack, I noticed that she wasn’t wearing gloves. As she handed the package through the car window, I had an immediate feeling brought on by this awareness that there was a chink in the otherwise well-established chain of safety protocol. This feeling made me wonder what else may not be safe?
Physical and psychological safety need to be established at every step of our processes. When working through reengagement scenarios, we need to think about each encounter our employees and clients have with our agency and clarify the safety protocols from start to finish. It may be useful to walk through minute by minute, or step by step, experiences – for example, what does a client do when they pull up, walk through our doors, where do they go, who do they see, how long are there here? – and outline safety protocols for each station of an experience.
- How do we stay resilient?
The adaptations our business may still need to consider may not yet be over. How do you create a culture that is capable of pivoting quickly to different ways of doing business? I know organizations that are considering making their conference virtual next year, even after the COVID restrictions are lifted because it lowers costs and reduces travel. Others have seen disruptions in suppliers or vendors, others have added staff quickly and needed to create rapid onboarding processes. Others, furloughed staff, or reduced programs and had to communicate changing expectations to donors and the public.
What are the changes to your business operations that you anticipate in the next 30-90 days and what are the conversations you need to be having around that now? What dynamics in your board or staffing teams need to be addressed in order to move forward enthusiastically and with confidence around the decisions that need to be made?
This might include analyzing program expansions or reductions, policy changes, governance oversight or committee involvement, and changes to communication, marketing, and volunteer recruitment and retention. It might also mean applying for federal funding or changing your appeal letters to recognize the new charitable deduction standards.
- What is the “new normal” we want to create?
A crisis is a terrible thing to waste, said Paul Romer, Nobel Laureate Economist. Our biggest breakthroughs generally come after our biggest breakdowns. We have learned a lot about our people, programs, and our productivity during this crisis and that learning has invited awareness around practices we want to continue — and the practices we don’t. Your organization has developed new best-practices even if you don’t know what they are yet. The challenge will be to identify what is working about the new ways you’ve been communicating, supporting, deciding, and engaging with one another. When we face challenges, we find new ways of operating which may have opened up conversations that were off limits before, or invited innovation that prior to this situation didn’t seem possible. It has never been easier to change the culture of your organization for the better than it has right now. Take time to reflect and foster curiosity so that you go into the next phases intentionally keeping the better parts of the culture you had to develop during the COVID-19 crisis.