Four Reminders for Nonprofit Boards in Response to Crisis

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Nonprofits find themselves in uncharted waters as the world responds to the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the incidence of COVID-19. Like other businesses, many of these organizations are facing incredible challenges. But unlike their for-profit counterparts, the demand for services hasn’t slowed; rather, the need for assistance and additional services seems to increase daily.

While board members are eager to step in and help during troubled times, it’s essential they understand boundaries. Smaller organizations may ask board members to be more hands-on and carry out various tasks. On the other hand, larger and more mature operations may need board members to provide broad direction, support and resources, as opposed to assistance in day-to-day functions.

As your board navigates the current climate, here are some key reminders:

  1. Don’t do the CEO’s job.

    If you have a competent CEO, focus on asking the following question: “How can we—as the board—help you right now?” Trust your organization’s leader during this time. Help your CEO think through ideas and be ready to offer support as needed.

    Most board members have corporate or for-profit backgrounds. Those are valuable, but don’t translate perfectly to how a nonprofit may respond in a crisis—which is exactly where your CEO’s expertise comes in.

    Board members must resist the temptation to take over. Unless the crisis is too much to handle, step back and allow your CEO to lead.
     
  2. Lean on your crisis management team.

    If you don’t have a crisis management team, your board’s executive committee and senior staff can fill the role for now. This team should provide structure and strategies for helping the organization navigate these challenging times. The group’s main objective is to protect the organization’s people and purpose while maintaining stability.
     
  3. Take an in-depth look at your current financial position.

    Project how you’ll survive if you lose 25 percent—or even 50 percent—of your funding. Work through scenarios. What if you need to scale back 25 to 30 percent of staff? Where will you start? When?

    Consider what cuts you can make and what projects could be delayed or placed on hold. Ask yourself how you could make up for canceled fundraising events or the loss of other funding sources.

    Remember that strategies are critical, so start contingency planning now.

    What is your rainy-day fund? Sixty days is the absolute minimum, but most nonprofit organizations have reserves of 90 to 120 days.
     
  4. Maintain open communication.

    Communicate often and keep stakeholders at all levels informed. Work with the CEO and staff to provide as much information as you can about how the crisis is affecting the organization and the potential changes it might bring to those you serve and your employees.

    Beyond the board and staff, reach out to volunteers, partnering organizations and major supporters. Let them know about your situation and the ways they can help.

    Keep engaged and maintain your passion. Your role as a board member is essential to the success of the organization during stable times. And in times of crisis, your support, experience and connections may be the difference between survival and closing the doors.

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