Leading Your Organization During Unpredictable Times

Leading during unpredictable times

There is no doubt that leading a nonprofit organization during the COVID-19 pandemic is new territory for all of us. Being optimistic, bold, and strong, while maintaining honesty, empathy, and a sense of realism is a delicate balance for leaders today.

Here are eight action steps that you can take to ensure that your leadership is moving your organization in a positive direction during this unpredictable time:

  1. It starts with YOU. Your board, staff, and constituents need you now more than ever. Are you showing signs of stress, anxiety, or lack of control? Take time to pause and focus on what’s most important now. And above all, take care of yourself. It may be helpful for you to find someone who is willing to volunteer their time to be a trusted advisor and provide you with feedback on the overall tone and messaging of your communications and interactions.


  1. Create a leadership cabinet. Surround yourself with key individuals who have both the internal knowledge that is needed and a calm demeanor. This is a good time to ask some of your board members who can add value to step up and help with planning and decision making.


  1. Make critical small choices. This is important since you are operating in a time where each day is unpredictable. Don’t delay or be afraid to act. You know what is in the best interests of your organization and will lead to overall growth in the end.


  1. Create teams to deal with niche areas. This will allow your staff (and board) to have some control during the crisis, while at the same time free you to work on other key issues.


  1. Stop trying to control the timeline to reach normal! You can’t control the impact of a pandemic. Instead focus on what your new future will look like when it is time to reopen.


  1. Overcommunicate with purpose. Consider creating weekly standing meetings through video conferencing to stay in touch with your staff members and board. Call your nonprofit’s major investors to see how they are doing. Send out two-minute updates by email or video message to all your constituents, members, program participants, staff, board, and donors. Consider special messages for lapsed donors or first-time donors to your organization now. And stay active on social media. As Rich Trickel, leader of The City Mission in Ohio, told us last week, this a fantastic channel to utilize heavily right now due to its timely nature and wide audience.


  1. If you have restricted grants, call your program officer. They want to hear from you. Find out how they are doing and update them on the organization. There is a high probability that there is willingness to allow you to unrestrict the grant so that you can use it for whatever is most important now.


  1. Promote your credibility. If you’re doing something to be a community resource, get press coverage and post your work on social media. If not, think about what your organization can do to help (i.e. allow your parking lot to be used as a food distribution or drive-through testing site or if your facility is closed allow it to be used as a temporary childcare site for children of first responders, law enforcement and health care workers as a YMCA we work with in North Carolina did).


These are indeed unprecedented times. It will test all your skills and emotions to lead. Take a step back to reflect on what your new future will look like. Your staff, constituents, and community that you serve are betting on you to get through this tough time and so are we.

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