Business as unusual
Posted on: September 14, 2020 at 11:28 am

By: Amy Phipps, Senior Associate

As if nonprofit management, development, and program planning weren’t hard enough…welcome to 2020!

Along with everything else, the pandemic has added an unwelcome extra layer of difficulty to all things nonprofit.  Clients with more need, revenue sources that dry up, more regulatory requirements – all make it harder for nonprofits to do their jobs at a time when their services are most urgently needed.

It’s not business as usual this year – it’s business as unusual.

According to The Impact of COVID-19 on Texas Nonprofit Organizations, a study just released by the United Ways of Texas, the COVID-19 pandemic is “crippling the sector’s ability to sustain an important workforce and provide critical services all Texans depend on.”

No question about it, you have your hands full.  It’s a critical moment in the sustainability of your organization.  But while you’re in the middle of managing your way through this crisis, let me suggest some ways you can come out stronger on the other side. Because, whatever else happens, we’re not going back to the way things were before this hit.  Business models have changed, and those who will thrive are those who have adapted.

Look Back to Look Forward:  Use this time as a learning exercise to prepare for the future.  What have you learned from the last six months?  What caught you off guard?  What were your successes?  The United Ways of Texas report states that more than 70% of nonprofits have changed their operations or services so that they can more directly support the COVID-19 response.  Have any of those changes been a blessing in disguise?  For example, many clinics and treatment organizations have been able to beef up their telehealth services, increasing revenue, boosting client numbers, and improving outcomes.  What changes will you keep, going forward?

Zoom to the Nth Power:  We’ve figured out how to stay in business using virtual meeting services; now, how do we continue to operate in a semi-virtual society?  Creativity is key.  You may find new and more effective ways to tell your story now that more folks are tuned in virtually.

Diversified Revenue:  The lesson is different for everyone, but it’s a universal lesson:   What did you learn about overreliance on just a few funding sources?  Organizations that focus primarily on special events have had their worlds turned upside down.  Foundation grants may have been diverted to COVID aid.  Where are the gaps in your revenue stream, and how can you fill them?

Using Business Planning to Move Past Normal:  One of the biggest lessons of COVID is that we can’t take anything for granted.  Our strategic plans (if we have them) may have been based on assumptions that no longer exist.  But a plan will be your best friend in navigating the roads ahead.  Forget about long-range planning right now; focus on the short-term – a year at best.  Incorporate both the worst- and best-case scenarios.  Use these four questions:  Where are we now, where do we want to be, how will we get there, and how will we know we’ve made it?

Taking a step back in the midst of crisis to ask these questions can be difficult, but it will serve you well and ultimately save a lot of time, energy, and stress. Any plan is better than no plan. By focusing on the bigger picture in this new world, you may find that “business as unusual” becomes “business as usual” after all.