Weathering the COVID-19 Storm – 10 Point Plan
Posted on 14 April, 2020 at 11:01
The coronavirus outbreak is first and foremost a human tragedy, affecting millions of people worldwide. It is also having a growing impact on the global economy, of which the NPO sector is a part of. This article is intended to provide NPOs leaderships and management with a perspective on the evolving situation and how they may respond if they are to come out the other side. The outbreak is moving quickly, and affecting organisations in different ways and some of the perspectives in this article may fall rapidly out of date or may be inapplicable in your case, thus the following steps are by no means conclusive, just an alternative view. As KFM Consultants, we shall be regularly updating you as the outbreak evolves, so we shall all be counted standing when the dust settles.
1. Refocus on the mission – In the midst of chaos and activation of the survival mode, it is quite very easy to lose focus of the original mission. However, this is the time to make the hard decisions to advance long term mission of the organisation, even sometimes at the short-term expense of some partners or grant makers. It may be tempting to contribute to the cause through involving the organisation in the various response projects, but is important to keep focus.
2. Understand the type of your organisation – NPOs come in various forms and all shapes. The leadership need to understand the nature of their organisation, whether you are a responder (disaster relief initiatives), a hibernator (those who wait until it’s calm and can effectively implement their programmes, or maybe a hybrid organisation (able to adapt and is flexible enough to change its programmes depending on circumstances).
3. Conserve Cash – Liquidity management avenues need to be pursued to ensure that organisation is in a position to survive in the event the economy take a turn for the worst. Reduce expenses, delay some payments, explore new fundraising opportunities, or expedite efforts to obtain cash. At the centre of this all, keep in touch with all your stakeholders, supply chain players and staff.
4. Shorten Time Horizons – Tough times call for tough measures. The trick to survive in most of these difficult times is to stay together and work as a united front. The Executive Director and Board Chair have to speak daily on matters obtaining, boards to meet at least monthly and maybe set up a committee that is always on the ground to deal with Covid19 related issues.
5. Get Help – This is not business as usual. Leadership may consider getting outside help and advice from people with the relevant experience in disaster management. The organisational board, especially for bigger organisations, may even consider appointing an interim Chief Restructuring Officer who may come in to support or temporarily replace the overwhelmed leader.
6. Leverage on Technology – The call being made is for social distancing, not necessarily halting all operations. The organisation may be facing fixed expenses like rentals, salaries or regulatory submissions like NSSA or ZIMRA, and that means skeletal staff may be still be required to work from wherever they are. That calls for use of technology to advance the mission. Meetings can be conducted online using Skype or Zoom or Slack. CCTV live feeds may be used to monitor operations in sensitive cases and so much more applications may be utilized.
7. Protect your Staff – Your staff may be the most important asset of the organisation during these trying times. The ability of the organisation to endure the crisis is heavily hinged on the ability of the teams to adapt to change and their commitment to work as fortified unit with a clear goal. It is thus the responsibility of the leadership to ensure that they protect their staff from not only infections of the dangerous Covid19, but also from effects of the pandemic, which may include shortage of food stocks, inadequacy of finances to cover medical bills etc. The organisation may not be mandated to do so, but the staff will really appreciate the gesture.
8. Plan for the Future – Scenario planning becomes very critical during these Covid19 times. There is no cure yet for the pandemic and the extend to which operations may be devastated is still very difficult to ascertain, especially in this part of the world where the correct data on the infections is not even available. Board and management need not focus on weathering the crisis alone, ignoring what will happen afterward also.
9. Explore Strategic Restructuring – The operations terrain is most likely going to be very different post Covid19. Leadership may take this opportunity to explore possible mergers with like-minded organisations, form collaborations with others driving in the same direction as you, consider some divestments which may be bleeding the organisation or even do thoughtful dissolutions of some projects. Restructuring, if done carefully and properly, may position the organisation to more opportunities to serve their beneficiaries and even more funding avenues.
10. Communicate – This is perhaps one of the most essential steps, despite it being the last on this article. To quote from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, “when there is no vaccine, communication is the vaccine”. We are live in a crowded information space, which is largely loud and dysfunctional and misinformation spreads very fast. Established NPOs, since they already have the trust of their online following, may help with sharing and retweeting messages from local government and other credible sources, posting links to local health facilities and information centres on their homepages, or even sending emails to clients, volunteers, and supports with updates. Organisations are also encouraged to slow down or even halt non-essential external messages for now to create space (akin to pulling over to get out of the way of an ambulance).
This is perhaps our turn, as a generation, to make answer for the question we have long had for our older generations; What did you do during the war? The future generations will ask us, what did we do during the Covid19 pandemic. Let’s make the answers!