The Nonprofit Organizational Dilemma

Don’t Just Survive COVID-19, Succeed!

The nonprofit sector is the glue that keeps our communities together, especially during times of crisis. However, according to a recent blog post on Candid, the nonprofit research and education center formed by the merger of and The Foundation Center, it is estimated that 7 percent of nonprofit organizations will close because of the coronavirus. Some nonprofit leaders estimate that the rate of closure could reach as high as 20 percent as states tighten their budgets amid declining tax revenue. Tim Delaney, President of the Nonprofit Council of Nonprofits, projects that “many nonprofits that are idling now will never reopen, and it will take years to understand the full scope of the failures.” As the entire country continues to struggle and cope with the coronavirus, what can our nation’s nonprofit organizations do to succeed, not just survive the pandemic?

There are five key strategies the nonprofit community must pursue now:

  1. Re-examine your vision statement. Even though the alligators might be swimming all around you, every crisis can offer an opportunity for growth. Take the time now to focus on your organization’s future direction. Sometimes in life the simplest things can be the most difficult. Attempting to reexamine your vision statement now, and engaging your board and leadership team in doing so as well, might be difficult but might also be the key to your success going forward. Is your vision statement stale and in need of revitalization? Or does it present a realistic, credible, attractive and ambitious future for those you serve, a future that in many important ways is more successful, more desirable than your present? Your vision statement should be a signpost pointing the way for all who need to understand where your organization intends to go. It should set standards of excellence, inspire enthusiasm, encourage commitment and be well articulated. Above all, you should be able to measure your progress towards it.
  2. Engage your board and encourage them to become your true partners in achieving your vision. Today, more than ever before, nonprofit boards must transition from their traditional roles of fiduciary and strategic/business advisors to one of leadership, in partnership with the CEO. At this level boards are developing a true sense of “ownership” of the organization. High performing nonprofit boards ask the right questions, put forth new ideas and address all challenges to continually partner with the CEO in refreshing and renewing the organization. Nonprofit organizations that exhibit characteristics of high performing boards generate significantly more donors and dollars and have a greater positive impact on those they serve, whether their community is local, national or global in nature.
  3. Assess and develop your leadership talent. There is no better time than the present crisis to support your entire staff to become leaders in your organization at every level, bottom to top. While leadership succession is traditionally thought of as “what happens if the CEO gets hit by a bus,” leadership succession planning is a vital, comprehensive strategy for proactively building a pipeline of leaders at all levels within an organization so that when transitions are necessary, leaders are ready to act. Leadership succession planning is an integral component for achieving your organization’s strategic vision. When you integrate your organization’s leadership succession planning and career development ladders, you will provide your team with much-needed positive reinforcement that better days are ahead.
  4. Build your brand identity. Building a positive brand is a crucial strategic initiative in today’s competitive nonprofit world. Brand identity is the promise that your organization makes to your clients, consumers, employees, board members, donors and volunteers. It is the aggregation of all your organization does – its mission, vision, culture and promise to those you serve. Today, perhaps more than ever, it is crucial for every nonprofit organization to develop a team of motivated employees and board members who feel proud to be working for a well-branded organization. To build your brand, communicate every day your achievements, successes, results and outcomes. Above all, let your stakeholders, both internal and external, know what differentiates your organization from others.
  5. Create a culture of philanthropy. It is vital to understand two of the biggest reasons people give money: 1) they give to success and not to distress, and 2) they give to the needs of those you serve, not to your organizational needs. Transition from the “tin cup” to the “investment” of fundraising where instead of asking for money because of your organization’s needs, you are proudly asking people to invest in the positive impact you are having in the community. During these challenging times, it is crucial for your organization to develop and communicate a case for support that will appeal to your donors’ hearts and minds. People will support you when they feel their money is going directly to help those you serve. When everyone learns that people give to success and not distress, when board members are encouraged and motivated to become a partner with your CEO in creating an organizational culture of success, when the fear of asking for money is replaced with a passion and commitment to ask donors to invest in your success, your nonprofit fundraising dilemma will become a distant memory and you will have created a powerful culture of philanthropy for years to come.

During these very difficult times, we need to find the courage and commitment to challenge the status quo of our organizations and take decisive steps now to position ourselves to succeed, to do more than survive. Doing business the same way as before and hoping things will be different tomorrow is not only an illusion, it is a recipe for failure. It is time to move forward to new heights, and to greater impact for those we serve.

Dennis C. Miller is the president of Dennis C. Miller Associates Inc., nationally recognized experts in nonprofit leadership executive search and board and nonprofit leadership performance coaching. Dennis is also a successful author, retreat facilitator and sought-after keynote speaker. Learn more about Dennis’ online board and nonprofit leadership courses here.