In this new, weird time, IPaintMyMind like most smaller nonprofits is thinking critically about how to best navigate a year that has quickly gone pear-shaped. While all of us have had to adapt on every level as individuals and families, businesses and nonprofits are also feeling the squeeze of an economy that has been halted by Covid-19.
As an Executive at a small nonprofit, I can speak from personal experience as to what we’ve implemented in an effort to ensure our sustainability and survival, throughout this year and beyond.
As the public health crisis is addressed, we’ve attempted to stay in touch with clients and partners while understanding everyone is worried about their basic needs & bottom lines. But we’ve also noticed a lot of reactivity exhibited by companies and organizations, as if needing to beat others to the punch.
To make sure our energy was focused on the highest value items, we’ve come up with a plan that has helped us put things in perspective. All we can do is our best with the things we can actually control. The following points address how small nonprofits can avoid spinning their wheels in a time of uncertainty.
Just, Stop. Everything.
At least for a little bit. Nonprofits are notorious for having staff working in multiple areas, operating on a shoestring budget, and doing more with less. Your scrappiness and grit is to be admired, but for right now, just stop, everything. The last 4-8 weeks has seen a lot of nonprofits pivoting quickly, moving fast to launch new things, all while people are more concerned with primal, baseline concerns.
At IPMM, we also struggled with the balance between support & noise, finding that it felt right to stop, reflect, and think more about real-time solutions for our partners and clients, not positioning a new offering in a communication habitat that is increasingly crowded.
Stopping to listen and beginning to understand what your constituents need right now is an important first step. Note: what you need to do might not be what you had planned on doing – but it might be! Be open to that discernment.
Communicate Openly With Your Team
Employees are getting bad news daily, unemployment claims are through the roof, and everyone is living with a little bit of a cloud over their heads. Whether you need to let everyone go now or are in a really good place to weather the coronavirus storm, your team needs to know that.
They need to know how they might be affected and waiting to tell them isn’t doing them any favors. In the age of social media and the 46,000 ways to get in touch with someone, silence is deafening. Giving your team a realistic chance of pivoting with success if this means your organization is done, is the least you can do.
Listen To Your Partners Before You Build, Build, Build
In a crisis like this, the tendency is to jump up and react. It makes sense, but that doesn’t mean it’s the most effective use of your time & energy. Our thinking at IPaintMyMind really is part of a mindset we have strived to consciously adopt over the last 12-18 months, and that’s the notion that the people best suited to help inform the solutions we build are the communities we serve.
That’s why we’ve moved to establish communication channels and take the pressure of implementation of the things we had planned before the crisis took hold. This is a jazz situation, we’ll all need to improvise.
But building before tapping in to the need or pivoting without real data is informed by nerves. Moving a little slower can help your board of directors support your staff.
Recalibrate Budget Forecasts & Make Adjustments
If you don’t have a KPI Dashboard for your organization’s finances, I can’t recommend one more. It gives you a legitimate view of the financial health and sustainability of your nonprofit, outside of generally feeling squeezed for budget.
Awesome, small accounting firms like Somers Consultants in Chicago, can help get your nonprofits financial management in order. Including your KPI dashboard! (Jim at Somers Consultants has been a god-send for IPMM, we can’t recommend him enough.) If not them, ask around!
Knowing your program efficiency, net current assets, and most importantly, your monthly operating reserves, is vital. That last item lets you know exactly how long the organization can last without additional revenue!!
As I tend to say, there are two sides to every budget, so reviewing current expenses is another thing you HAVE to do. Reducing your recurring costs is the first place you should look, and if there are any tools, subscriptions, services, or employees that aren’t essential, you have to consider eliminating them. The future of the organization depends on it.
Double Down on Systems & Strategic Planning
If grants, donations, and even earned income is going to be harder to come by, you have no reason at all not to take a long look at your system efficiency as an organization. Whether there are ways to deliver programs, communicate, project manage, or fundraise more efficiently, now is the time to look under those rocks.
So much of the time we can find really good excuses not to work smarter. Whether the immediacy of program delivery or the anxiety that ensues when a partner is in need, we can easily push bigger strategic work in our normal nonprofit work lives.
Now that all businesses are forced to pause, be sure to look at the ways your nonprofit operates and create a short, campaign-style approach to improving in that strategic area while fundraising is in a lull.
With so much unknown about how the world will bounce back from the coronavirus, it is up to us as the leaders of small nonprofits to do everything we can to come out on the other side of this able to serve our communities and constituents better than ever.
You can do it! And feel free to reach out if we can help.
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