Charity’s Future And COVID-19 is an article written by Louis Fawcett that provides leaders a special way to think about the impending social and economic crises caused by Coronavirus. Louis is President of National Association of Nonprofit Organizations & Executives (NANOE). Here’s what he has to share about our futures:
Can we acknowledge just how quickly our world has been thrown into uncertainty? Only a month ago, life seemed normal and we were all conducting business as usual. Today, our lives are on hold and the things we took for granted seemingly have vanished. We can no longer go out to eat, attend events, participate in church or even watch live sports on TV. We can’t plan travel or send our kids to school.
Almost overnight, it feels like we are headed into the dark ages again. As a father, I fear for my children’s safety and the new world in which they will live as a result of COVID-19. I’m scared and I know you are too.
Yet, a fundamental hallmark of human existence is that we do not let our fears dominate our ability to plan the future. Since the dawn of civilization, humans have organized themselves into tribes, villages, towns, cities and nations for the welfare of all. Long before humans knew about viruses, we built walls, stocked provisions and trained warriors in order to survive hardships and attacks. We made laws to protect the innocent and we embraced innovation. We created the marketplace out of a desire to flourish as individuals, families and communities. Everything we have done for thousands of years was based on face to face human interaction. Our prosperity has been built on trusting, serving and protecting our fellow human beings.
And now it feels like that is all slipping away. We’ve always known that life is dangerous, but somehow it now seems perilous. Putting aside the statistics about all the other things that can kill us (auto accidents, the flu, heart disease, cancer or airplane crashes), it feels like COVID-19 is hunting us all.
Will we be able to spend time with our extended friends and family again? Will we be able to gather for worship? Will we be able to attend social functions without wearing gloves and masks? Will we be able to congregate in ways that define us as humans and Americans?
Our fears are real, but so are the norms of human interaction and the laws of economics. The fundamentals on which our society is built have not changed. Our market is still based on supply and demand. Humans still have a need to interact personally with one another and in groups. We still organize ourselves for the welfare of all. Most importantly, we will continue to have empathy for one another and spread love and mercy to the world.
Empathy, mercy and love are the fundamental ingredients of the nonprofit sector. We form nonprofit organizations to help others rather than to help shareholders. The return on investment in the charitable sector is changing and saving lives. This is what makes nonprofits so precious and beautiful. Our fear is that the nonprofit sector will be irreparably harmed by this crisis and that many small and medium charities will cease to exist.
I’ve spent this week reflecting and re-evaluating my life. While I’ve always known this to be a healthy practice, it’s been forced on me by COVID-19. Yes, it has come with anxiety, but this forced isolation also delivers a measure of peacefulness. The things which seemed so important a month ago now seem inconsequential or at least less important. I’ve spent more time at home, more time with my kids and more time checking in with friends and family. While I’m still scared of what COVID-19 could do to me and the people I love and even more scared about what it’s doing to our economy, I have to admit I’m thankful for this forced re-evaluation of priorities.
This time of self reflection has led me to think about how the nonprofit sector needs to re-evaluate it’s priorities as well. I wonder:
• Have we been so busy serving people in need in the short term that we haven’t planned for the long term?
• Have we been so focused on the needs of our causes that we have forgotten about the needs of our donors?
• Have we taken our funding sources for granted?
• Have we leveraged our credit lines but not leveraged social capital?
• Have we as nonprofit leaders failed to prepare for a collapsed economy?
I grew up in a small town called Farmville, VA. We only had four restaurants and none of them were that great. We didn’t have professional sporting events or headline concerts or much in the way of culture and the arts. We only had three TV stations and re-runs of Happy Days got old after awhile. We lived on food from the garden cooked by Momma, we took walks in the woods and we read books. We were taught economics by our parents and grand-parents who lived through the Great Depression. Here are some of the lessons we learned from our past:
• Don’t buy things you don’t need
• Don’t go into debt
• Live in a modest house
• Save money to buy a car
• Clip coupons
• Build reserves for emergencies
• Save for retirement
• Use things until they are completely worn out
• Work hard every day because you may not have a job tomorrow
Admittedly, when the Dow Jones neared 30,000, these lessons from the Great Depression seemed a bit archaic. Now, because of the forced re-evaluation of priorities caused by COVID-19, these lessons are once again fundamental.
I can’t help but apply these lessons to nonprofits and I want to share some of these with you. While none of these are easy in this uncertain moment, here are some things you can do now while we all have extra time:
1. Stay positive. This too shall pass. It’s OK to be scared and protect your family and what you hold dear, but know that we will return to normalcy (albeit with some things being different). If our ancestors survived calamities and prospered on the other side, so will we.
2. Plan for the future. Now is NOT a time to be paralyzed with fear, rather, this is a time to plan. Use this unforeseen moment as a time to re-evaluate how your nonprofit operates pro-grammatically and receives funding. Plan for how to give your organization a firmer foundation to weather difficult times.
3. Stay in touch with your donors to maintain key relationships. Take this time to ask how you can serve them rather than asking them to serve you.
4. Re-evaluate how your Board is structured and who is serving on it. Consider a smaller, more adept leadership circle that can act rapidly when needed.
5. Re-think your brand and market position in your community. What makes your organization unique and how can you take ownership of a particular issue in order to change and save more lives?
6. Revise your calendar to spend less time doing things that cannot be monetized (reports, meetings, management and programs) and more time seeking consistent sources of revenue.
7. View this as a time of learning so we never find ourselves in this situation again.
Please know you are in our prayers and we are available for you. We are sharing resources that will make your organization healthier on the other side of the COVID-19 crisis. As uncomfortable as this is right now, we will all be stronger and wiser in the years to come.
Be of good cheer and carry on! Our work to deliver empathy, mercy and love to the people we serve is too important to do otherwise. You’re not alone, there’s a group of us that share your values. You are our heroes and NANOE stands behind you every day. Thank you for your daily service to people in need! I look forward to being part of what you are doing. Until then I remain,
Louis Fawcett, CNC
Charity’s Future And COVID-19 was written first posted at INSIDE CHARITY
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