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Five Actions Overwhelmed Executive Directors Can Take This Week

Good decisions – made early– will help you lead through this COVID-19 crisis.

Over the last few weeks we’ve been fielding calls from nonprofit executives and board members as they grapple with new challenging realities. From cancelled fundraisers to remote work policies to possible furloughs, nonprofit leaders like you are facing tough challenges. We know you’re overwhelmed, worried about your next steps, and above all else, want to do right by your organization and your staff. 

Make things less overwhelming yourself by getting specific about what’s urgent. Breaking things down into smaller decisions will help you set up your organization with a strong foundation to tackle tomorrow’s challenges. These are the five concrete steps you should take this week:

1. Set Weekly Executive Committee Calls.

Contact your board chair right now to suggest that the executive committee start meeting weekly. Give yourself a break and ask them to take the lead on scheduling calls. We’re in a rapidly evolving situation. It’s imperative that you keep your board informed and that they provide you support in return. There will be tough decisions in the days to come, and you all need to be united in how you will move forward.

2. Set up a call with your bookkeeper/accountant and treasurer.

Get your finance team together with the following things on your agenda: possible changes to their availability; a point of contact if they are out of the office; anticipated lag-time processing statements, payroll, etc.; and discussing cash flow, accounts receivable, and accounts payable. Detailed financial reporting is crucial for you and the board to make responsible decisions, including at what point, if any, furloughs or layoffs need to be discussed.

3. Review contracts.

Review all the contracts you have in place. Who do you owe, and when? Incorporate information into your cash flow analysis, and keep your board posted on these payables. Unless it’s truly urgent, don’t worry about renegotiating contracts right now. This week is about getting a grasp on the big picture and communicating it internally.

4. Support staff.

They are worried about families, jobs, and adverse effects on the communities your nonprofit serves. They are looking to you for direction, guidance, and comfort. Be flexible with work hours. Be clear about what needs to be prioritized. Be realistic about the amount of work that will happen. Be firm that they not overwork as a coping mechanism for stress. Set up communication protocols with frequent team check-ins (daily might be too much, weekly might not be enough). Connect one-on-one to leave space to surface their concerns and for them to decompress. Help them feel grounded by providing as much normalcy as you can manage.

5. Have staff brainstorm projects to do remotely.

You know how you’ve been telling yourself you haven’t had time to update your CRM? Document new curriculum? Create a content calendar for your next marketing campaign? Institute the new project management tool? Now is that time. Employees may worry about their relevancy without programming to implement. Ask them self-identify those big and little projects that keep getting put off and make them their own. 

OMG! Did we just give you a list that didn’t include how to kick your fundraising into gear? How to approach donor calls? Take a deep breath. This week is about building your foundation, getting crystal clear on your financial position, and putting your oxygen mask on first, as our colleague Claire likes to say. Not every decision can be handled this week. That is what next week is for. You got this!

P.S. next week we’ll be sharing a new round of concrete action steps. We promise to give you advice on fundraising.

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    1. Really good advise Carlyn. Thank you, Ken

    2. Three Key Questions for Executive Directors Dealing with COVID-19 – Good Insight