These COVID-19 days are tough for everyone but especially for nonprofits and community economic development leaders. During a recent prospect solicitation meeting I had with a well-respected community leader in South Dakota, he relayed the story of King Solomon trying to humble his wise men by asking them to perform a seemingly impossible task.
King Solomon requested a statement, or sentence, which should be true and appropriate in all times, good and bad. After several days of intense reflection, the wise men admitted they had failed in their task.
They were indeed humbled when the King provided them their answer, “And this too shall pass.”
Worthy causes have always garnered support from the private sector, at least to the extent that company profits would allow it. What we are experiencing today is dramatic by all standards, but we must all remember, this too shall pass. It’s OK to feel anxious, to be worried about yourself and loved ones, friends, and neighbors. Just like the stock market, uncertainty wreaks havoc in people’s lives. Unlike the stock market, however, we are all experiencing this together, and we owe it to one another to be our best selves, to lead by example, to offer support and encouragement to those who need us.
Make no mistake, there are many who need us — employees, coworkers, customers, family, and worthy community causes that affect millions and millions of fellow citizens. What we do today, how we behave, and how we treat each other will be remembered well after the COVID-19 pandemic has passed. In fact, the choices being made today will have a lasting impact and be remembered for many years to come.
It’s becoming clear we’re all doing much better at social distancing, washing hands, and wearing masks but the reality is we are only as strong as the weakest link in the chain. As we used to tell our son, I’m not worried about your driving, I’m worried about the other drivers. So, worry if you must, but find the courage to focus your leadership and be intentional on what you can do now to help your business, your cause, and your fellow citizens.
BE INTENTIONALLY STRATEGIC –Take this opportunity to think through your business model and determine if you are doing everything possible to maintain and sustain it for the long term. We often are working so intently “in the business” that we don’t work strategically “on the business”. Now is your time to be strategic and intentional. Don’t be rash, but err on the judgment of action, not inaction. As one of my colleagues is fond of saying, “an object in motion tends to stay in motion,” so keep your business strategy moving forward if not your product or service too.
COMMUNICATE, THEN COMMUNICATE AGAIN – When people don’t know, they fear the worst. It’s far better to provide bad news early than good news late. Consider what’s right for your company, but I would recommend having a weekly, if not daily, video call. This will allow the ENTJ, the ISFP, and all the other Myers-Brigg personalities in between, the opportunity to connect and share. We would all do well to remember the Swedish proverb, “A joy shared, is a joy doubled. A sorrow shared, is a sorrow halved.”
MAKE EMOTIONAL BANK DEPOSITS – Stephen Covey, in the book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” speaks of making emotional deposits and withdrawals in the lives of people with whom we interact. This is a great time to build up your Board member, investor, and member/constituent relationships. Do good deeds, not for repayment, but to enrich the lives of others and give them a positive outlook. There’s enough negative news, misinformation, and internet gossip already so it’s imperative that you don’t contribute to it. Some communities we serve let us know they are working hard to be sure to communicate all the amazing ways businesses and residents are stepping up in this crisis – the good news.
OPTIMIZE FUNDRAISING – The next few months will be difficult for many of our nonprofit friends and clients, not because their cause is no longer important, but because the for-profit businesses that support them are all experiencing a crisis of their own. Many for-profits are downsizing while relatively few are upsizing (grocery, healthcare, liquor, cleaners, paper products, remote software). Don’t be tone deaf to the environment we are all living in. Make the most of this time to fine tune your mission. Just as every business is determining what is essential for their operations, nonprofits must also. Take a hard look at your value proposition and determine if there are better ways to provide services. If you rely on events to raise money, you’ll need to determine if they can be monetized online. You may need to consider merging with a competitor or partner agency. One thing is already certain, businesses are taking a more critical analysis of the causes they will support, and you should anticipate a more thorough review of your next round of funding. Take the next month or two to really analyze your business, and please feel free to contact us if you need assistance or get stuck.
For nonprofits like Chambers of Commerce and Economic Development Organizations, those whose mission is to build community wealth, we expect your services will be in more demand than ever in the coming days. However, you’ll need to put in the hard work now to make sure your goals are filling the community needs of today and tomorrow, not your organizational needs of yesterday.
King Solomon had it right. We all know intuitively this too will pass, but when it does you must have done the hard behind-the-scenes work to position your organization and your cause for optimum future success.