For weeks now, we all have been reading emails and website homepage notices outlining actions in response to COVID-19. As a consultant to nonprofits, I am deeply moved by the deliberations and decisions made by my nonprofit clients and other organizations I know. Daily, our clients are meeting human needs in profound ways. Most must push through to attend to their vulnerable clients and take care of their employees at the same time. Others are faced with the need to pull back for the safety and health of their staff and clients. Nonprofit responses are unique and situational.
I have several clients who now provide their services virtually by sharing virtual story times for young children or replacing in-person programs with webinars. For another client, it is moving to telehealth and also asking staff to put on masks, go to a client’s home, place the client’s medications on the doorstep, ring the bell and distance themselves for when the door is opened, and ask questions for a mental health check-in. Another is in the process of turning its annual four-day conference into a virtual event. Several are hiring and others continue to vet and add new board members.
Adaptive capacity is a hallmark of a high functioning nonprofit. Right now, every organization is writing a new playbook each day. We, too, as nonprofit consultants, are adapting – to the needs of our clients, to the way they are working and engaging us, to the way we work and engage clients – to the ways we work together. Although we are all becoming even more adept with video conferencing, turning in-person meetings into online events, it is more than that. We are looking for, and finding, ways to support our clients by providing our services in ways that are additive.
For me, it has been taking my cues from clients. In one instance, COVID-19 has put on hold the strategic planning process and changed the timing for approving the plan and initiating implementation. What is notable is that because of the changes that are occurring – because of the proficient and dedicated way in which this organization is responding to the pandemic – the management team and board of directors will be changed when we ultimately come together (whether virtually or in person) to create the framework of the strategic plan. The strategic vision and goals will emerge from a new starting place. Yes, the information gathered in the internal and external stakeholder assessment activities remains relevant. However, there is now additional data: That which has emerged because the organization adapted quickly and creatively to the uncertain, fluid environment in which it delivers its mission during COVID-19.
So, eventually, when the pandemic is over, how will we and our client organizations build on new-found or sharpened skills? What strengths, what capacity for kindness, what ability to live with ambiguity, are we all identifying that we will be able to leverage? What innovations have we made that may become incorporated into our work? How will we all build on our enhanced adaptive capacity?
When we are through this – all still healthy, I hope – it will be imperative to reflect on our capacity as individuals, nonprofits, foundations, businesses, communities, and more, to adapt and find new strengths on which to build.
In the meantime, please: wear your mask; practice social distancing; continue to check in on family, friends, co-workers, and other colleagues; get your information from trusted sources; and take care and be well.