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Three Key Questions for Executive Directors Dealing with COVID-19

Over the past few weeks, my company Good Insight has provided free consultations to nonprofit executives and board members to talk through their specific situations related to COVID-19. From dramatically declining revenue, possible layoffs, and concerns for the communities that they serve, many are experiencing the most complex challenges that their nonprofits may ever face.

In early March we published 5 Actions Overwhelmed Executives Directors Can Take This Week as a way to lay the groundwork for making good decisions. As we said then – it’s important for you to put your oxygen mask on first.

As the COVID-19 crisis unfolds, executive directors seem to be steering their nonprofits to steadier ground. That said, there are undoubtedly many uncertainties lying ahead.

We sincerely hope you’re feeling less overwhelmed today than in recent weeks. We’re sharing some thoughts about how to move forward with fundraising, navigating federal aid, and finding creative ways to sustain your most important assets.

How are you feeling about fundraising?

By now we’re sure you’ve heard recommendations to proactively reach out to funders. It’s super important piece of the pie, but other articles seem to be covering it well, so we won’t repeat it. But, in addition to that, we’re encouraging our clients to have a cohesive individual giving strategy related to COVID-19. Don’t let the recent fluctuations in the market prevent you from moving forward with appeals, but consider if you need to adjust them.

Does that spring campaign you finalized in January still resonate in current times? If not, look for ways to adapt your case statement to reflect your new needs and stories of resiliency. Do you need new images? Consider a drive for last year’s donors to join your monthly giving program. Bonus points – it helps make cash flow more predictable!

Engage your board with a dial-a-donor project (provide some Zoom-based training first!) Use these calls to provide an update about the organization, some recent wins or glimmers of hope, and sincerely ask and listen to how they’re doing. Some might indicate willingness to fulfill an early pledge or make a new donation. Others might not, but will remember  your organization’s generosity inquiring about their well-being. It may not pay immediate dividends, but it’s the right thing to do.

Do you understand your eligibility for aid under the CARES Act?

We are getting a ton of questions about this from our clients, and we’re the first to say: we have no idea!! Information is coming from every direction and you must use your discretion to seek information from reputable sources. Talk to your bank or your accounting partner. Review materials from Independent Sector and for local folks, we’ve been impressed by the DC Bar Pro Bono Center’s resources.

How are your employees holding up?

We were on a client’s board call over the weekend and one member observed that, “you can’t pour from an empty cup.” Truer words have not been spoken. How are you doing? How is your team? In the beginning we saw folks worried that employees wouldn’t fulfill their usual 40-hour work week, but in reality, we’re seeing a lot of overwork. We know it’s hard to create boundaries when workdays blend into weekends, but executive directors need to be conscious of modeling good boundaries for their employees. Other than an E.D.-led weekly check-ins, can there be a system for staff to check in on one another, like a phone tree of sorts? Could board members take the lead and text a note of support to hard-working employees? Can you adopt an “Employee of the Week” recognition program? Can you add a floating day off or two in the coming weeks? Replacing employees is costly and time-intensive, so invest what you can now to retain them when your nonprofit is operating in its new normal.

Nonprofit executive directors are the unsung heroes of our sector. If no one has thanked you lately, please allow us. We sincerely appreciate the work you’re doing on behalf of the communities that you serve.

What else would be helpful for us to discuss? We can drill down on certain topics and share resources we’re seeing in the field. Feel free to reach out to us at

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