Maintaining Momentum in Uncertain Times – Bulletin 1
As we see the world responding to the COVID-19 situation, we know that there is a significant amount of uncertainty, and even fear, about what it all means and what we as organizations and professionals should be doing in our own response to it.
First thing to remember is that we’ve been here before. Whether it be the aftermath of 9/11 or the Great Recession of 2008, we have many learnings from weathering previous storms. Strong leadership and organizational resilience have helped charitable organizations persevere through challenging times in the past and they will do so again this time around.
And secondly, likely the best guidance overall is for organizations to prepare and respond, but not panic.
To help you do that, we will be creating a series of bulletins to provide timely advice and guidance about how to navigate this situation as it evolves, while continuing to maintain momentum in your fundraising programs and activities. Building on learnings from having managed through previous periods of economic stress and crisis, we will share insights and information on good practices as well as provide links to helpful resources.
As we find ourselves in this very early stage, we want to focus on the immediate and provide some guidance related to what you are likely dealing with now and over the next few days.
- Working remotely. One of the most immediate changes that we’ve seen is the need for employees to work from home for a period of time. While we generally have a culture and capacity to work in this way, for many it will be new. For some guidance and advice on how to manage staff remotely and help employees successfully work from home, our Search + Talent team has pulled together a couple of articles with some helpful tips and information:
- Stakeholder communication. All of us are receiving emails from every organization we’ve ever interacted with to tell us how they are responding. While it’s important not to communicate unnecessarily, it is also unwise to remain silent. When thinking of your communication strategy, best to be guided by the notion of communicating on a “need to know” basis. In the immediate term, that likely does mean letting your community of stakeholders know of any changes to how you are working and interacting with them. And when thinking of communication, don’t forget your staff. Internal stakeholders are generally eager for information and during times of uncertainty, this inclination is magnified.
- Continue to drive forward. We are hearing from clients and other organizations that while they are making adjustments, they are also trying, as much as a possible, to adopt a “business as usual” approach. Avoid wholesale cancellation of your fundraising plans and activities and rather seek to adjust and adapt meetings, events, and activities to reflect local circumstances. We know from previous experience with downturns that those who continued to drive forward and maintain some degree of momentum emerged much more successfully, while those that dialed things back found they had lost significant ground.
- Begin scenario planning. An immediate focus should be to be initiate scenario planning. Create a series of models that reflect a variety of revenue scenarios (three is a good number – Best, Likely, Worst). A key part of this planning should be to look at each of your programs and major gift prospects to identify areas of risk. Using these models, also begin to think about the corresponding ramifications and responses to each.
We know from previous experience with downturns that those who continued to drive forward and maintain some degree of momentum emerged much more successfully, while those that dialed things back found they had lost significant ground.
- Thoughtful and measured decision making. Notwithstanding the advice to begin scenario planning, beware the tendency to bluntly adopt a “cut and retreat” strategy. We know from experience that this approach can have very negative ramifications in the long term. While good to begin modelling, it’s far too early to make decisions. Rather, see how things play out and identify which scenario becomes valid as they do. Good strategic decisions are rarely made quickly or based on gut instinct, so give sufficient time to carefully consider options and the right next steps.
- Leadership and setting the tone. Perhaps the most important advice right now relates to leadership and tone. Whether internally with staff or externally with donors and other stakeholders, it’s critical to remain calm and project confidence in your ability to weather this storm. In addition, a “just-in-time” approach to strategy setting and resource allocation is advisable. As a result, senior management of the organization may want to have weekly or even daily “all hands on deck” meetings to exchange information and make fast operational decisions. And finally, from CNN Business here is a great story on how to be a leader during times of crisis from two people who know what that’s like.
Related to the idea of setting the tone, it’s also critically important not to overreact. To build on the saying from that famous WWII poster, this is a time to “Keep Calm (While Doing the Right Things at the Right Time) and Carry On”.
We look forward to being of assistance on identifying those “right things at the right time” and our next bulletin will focus on fundraising activities, including managing event cancellations and maintaining momentum in your conversations with major gift prospects.