We are on the doorstep of one year into a pandemic that no one saw coming. Nonprofits of all shapes and sizes had to move rapidly to respond to unexpected disruptions. Capacity, operations, and funding all were impacted and impacted quickly. As we watch mass vaccination centers come on-line and COVID-19 safety restrictions starting to be lifted, we can begin to look ahead to the long road of recovery and dream about the new normal somewhere in the future.
At the one-year mark we must shift our focus from rapid safety considerations and responding to increasing public safety protocols to re-opening, long-term recovery planning, and repositioning for the new normal. In short, planning and decision-making will shift from short-term to intermediate-term (recovery) and then to long-term (new normal).
At the front-end of the COVID-19 crisis, we had to react quickly to protect the health of our staffs, volunteers, members, and people we serve. We prioritized concern for their health and protection by complying with critical safety protocols, social distancing, and shifting to remote working and virtual meeting environments. These measures impacted regularly scheduled programs, activities, events, and the associated funding streams from registrations, sponsorships, and even from contributions and grants.
Initial steps were often taken without regard to the long-term future. Senior management and staff moved quickly to shift operations, programs, and events while attempting to mitigate and adjust to declining funding and reduced capacity. Some organizations set up COVID-19 task forces to help with problem solving adding resources and talent (especially professional medical and safety advisors) to help senior management and the Board.
As we shift our focus from short-term safety and protection to long-term recovery and recovery planning, we need to shift our tactical planning strategies and teams to meet this new paradigm. Consider these three tactics:
1. Decision making must begin to move back to being focused on mission and long-term sustainability.
Operating deficits must stop during the recovery period. After the recovery period, future new normal budgets need include surpluses to gradually replace operating reserves used during the early stages of the pandemic.
2. Establish a recovery period strategic plan.
Define your objectives but keep them gradual and nimble. The recovery period could bring as many surprises as the first year of the pandemic. Establish at least three phases in your recovery period strategic plan, monitor progress, be nimble, and be prepared to fall back to an earlier phase if recovery falters and COVID-19 bounces back.
3. Consider adding a Recovery Task Force.
A task force that has thoughtful objectives and is well stocked with expertise aligned to meet unusual circumstances will be a most beneficial partner. If you established a COVID-19 Task Force, consider sunsetting that group, thank them for their service, and for a final task ask them to help with stocking a new Recovery Task Force to meet new challenges and tackle new planning solving tasks. The Recovery Task Force should be aligned with supporting mission, expanding programing, and resuming events and activities. Also, the Recovery Task Force can assist with fundraising efforts, tackle marketing challenges, and help to build customer relations management (CRM) enhancements. Set objectives for the Recovery Task Force around these critical areas with clear performance progress indicators for the recovery period. Leave remote working and returning to office strategies to senior management and staff.
Planning Tip – Staff input into the recovery strategic plan is critical. This plan is not expected to have the same shelf life as a Board-driven, traditional strategic plan. Set three or four phases. Keep each phase simple, targeted, and tight. Connect staff to key performance measurement indicators for each phase. Be fully transparent by sharing the recovery strategic plan with your Board and encourage comments but not micromanagement.
This is a time to be hopeful. Recovery is near. However, we must recognize the road ahead could be long, bumpy with unexpected turns. This road requires thoughtful navigating skills. Plan diligently, be cautious and stay optimistic but also be realistic so you can arrive at a good destination.