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March 13, 2020 // Scott Pansky // Opinion  //       //  Opinion

Coronavirus Impact: How Nonprofits Can Stay True to Their Mission during These Challenging Times

By: Scott Pansky

The world hasn’t witnessed anything like COVID-19 in years. Each county, state and city has handled this pandemic differently in almost every case. But what is not different is the impact the virus will have on nonprofit organizations that depend on special events, trainings and volunteerism. 

With major conferences, sporting events, movies and concerts canceled and or postponed, universities closing their doors, employers increasing telework, and cities restricting public gatherings to less than 250 people, nonprofits must now evaluate their assets and prioritize how they plan to use and raise their funds.

I met recently with a charity whose operating budget was less than $500,000 and that depends on coordinating public events and training. Its operating budget will go dry in less than a year if it cannot host its events. This will be a huge challenge.

Thinking about this more deeply, and taking into account the survival for many, I wondered what advice I could offer. What can nonprofits do to keep their lights on? They could ask for federal dollars or foundation grants, but hundreds of thousands of charities out there will try to do the same thing. So, I started considering a charity’s own foundation – its aha moment for “being” – and I came up with the following thoughts:

  • If your charity has a solid reason for being and you focus on your mission, don’t turn away. Just fight harder.
  • Getting mainstream media will be a challenge, so talk to your base. These are your loyal followers and volunteers, people who care about your mission and its survival. Don’t hide from them – share with them what is happening and whether you need support.
  • Do you have authentic relationships with your existing corporate and grant makers? These folks are invested in your organization. You can’t expect them to come to the table with a lot more, but can you talk with them about staying with you and helping with in-kind donations and related services your organization might need. Vice versa, if they have issues, is there something your charity can do to help?

Your long-term relationships are like family. It’s not about Giving Tuesday once a year. It’s about authentic, responsible and transparent (ART) relationships that in times like this bring together your supporters. Talk with them, use your social media, and use existing direct mail outreach strategies, flyers and newsletters. It’s OK to still pick up your phone or host a video call and talk with people. If you don’t believe in your mission or highlight what is needed to survive, it will disappear. It is here for a reason. Fight for it, and never give up. Roll up your sleeves, lean on your board, advisors and staff – this is a battle you do not have to fight alone.  

Update: As a result of this post, Scott was invited by the Center for Nonprofits to share his insights to a group of over 200 nonprofits partners. You can see a recording of the webinar here.

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Scott Pansky is a co-founder of the agency and leads Allison+Partners’ Social Impact group. Scott has extensive experience providing communications and crisis counsel to nonprofit organizations and developing board + ambassador training programs.

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