There is no roadmap, it all seems so overwhelming, but you are doing it, you ARE managing the crisis!


We’re fortunate to be part of a group of nine inspiring women coaches working with the McConnell Foundation in the Innoweave Impact and Strategic Clarity Coaches’ Community of Practice.  Many members of this small group have been working in coaching and consulting with the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors for decades and have been connected to one another since 2012.  Our learning and growing together has been rich and varied.

We work with nonprofit, public sector and philanthropic leaders in planning for the future. These leaders want to ensure they make the best use of talent and resources to create positive social and environmental impact in the world. COVID-19 has, of course, caused all of us and the people and organizations we work with to think about the future in a new way.

There are no roadmaps, no best practices to learn from, the plane is truly being built and flown at the same time. However, across the sector, some themes are emerging as top of mind for organizations and their leaders.

Our goal is to highlight some of these themes and share the questions organizations are asking and some promising approaches that may be helpful to others. We’re all learning together.

We are seeing themes emerging around the four stages identified by The Bridgespan Group[1] in the response to the COVID-19 emergency:

These don’t have to be linear. What we learn from crisis management can inform the adaptations needed further down the road.  Successes or challenges experienced in adapting to the early COVID context, can inform priorities about longer lasting changes. Future planning may suggest making changes to adaptations we have already implemented.

One thing is clear: there is no returning to the way things used to be.  The COVID-19 emergency is a crisis and an opportunity to explore new ideas, find new resources, build new alliances and to focus on what we already know works well and amplify it.

Managing the crisis and protecting the organization

For some, coming together to reaffirm and prioritize the organization’s values and goals has been essential to finding a way forward. As one ED of a large youth serving agency shared,

“For us, it has been important to really focus on our core values and name the two or three things that our organization will stand for no matter what.  We are now in the process of identifying how to hold on to them or transition to them.”

Taking time to consider what your values are and then using those values to guide decision-making around which programs, activities and practices that make the most relevant impact is being seen as a promising practice amongst many organizations.  This doesn’t need to be a complicated exercise- and we shouldn’t let perfect become the enemy of the good.  Getting aligned on what matters most will make navigating through unchartered waters easier.

We see organizations asking themselves:

  • What are our shared values?
  • When at our best, what impact are we having?
  • Which of our activities are most important to our impact?
  • Which of our activities are must-do and which are nice to have?
  • Can we adapt our must-do activities? How? New space, new delivery models, new skills and knowledge, new management processes and approaches?
  • What is it okay for us to stop doing? To let go of?

How to get along in the new world of social distancing has been challenging in practical terms too. Many leaders are learning how to manage virtual teams and many are adapting programs to move from in-person to online:

“We spent so much time determining how to switch our counseling services to a virtual environment”, as one program officer shared, “our emphasis was on ensuring that we could create the right intimate experience for our clients.  The day before we were planning to make the transition, we had our lawyer advise that the switch wasn’t going to be that simple:  we needed to ensure a robust internet security plan to protect the privacy of our clients. We have now had to put our counseling services on hold”.

In the early stages of responding to the crisis and protecting their organizations, leaders are rightly focused on protecting the health and safety of their clients and staff. We won’t get everything right in the early days of the crisis. If our teams are aligned on what’s important, we can learn from these setbacks and build on the ideas that work.

Adapting the organization and preparing for the future

As the crisis becomes less immediate and as we all learn more, rethinking the operating model and finding new sources of revenue is a pressing priority for many organizations we serve. A renewed focus on resource sharing, consolidation and rationalization in the sector is top of mind for many.

All of the organizations we’re connecting with are thinking through the impact they can make for clients and stakeholders and when (and how) to decide whether the immediate changes will be permanent or temporary.

As the space to think about the future opens up, organizations are asking themselves:

  • What is the right business model for us?
  • What is the right organizational design? What combination of virtual teams and services and in-person engagement is right? How will our virtual team be managed, and how will we make decisions well? What new skills and experience will we need?
  • Who shares our mission and serves the same population or is building to the same outcomes? What new alliances are possible? Can we do more with others?
  • Is there another population group that we should now be targeting? Where we can have more impact given the current situation?

There are lot of ideas out there. Many networks are sharing tools, sharing resources and hosting panel discussions by webinar. Innoweave is one curation source for these supports.  Innoweave is also offering mentorship and coaching and the McConnell Foundation has launched two new funds to support organizations in making shifts in their operations. We can all benefit from the COVID situation if we ask thoughtful questions and work together.

We will continue to share examples from the field about how leaders and their organizations are asking and answering these questions. We welcome your thoughts and ideas. Please use the comments section to share your own inspiring story or challenge of adaptation, leadership and impact.  We would love to hear more about what you are living in your work.

References:

[1] The Bridgespan Group is a global nonprofit organization that collaborates with mission-driven leaders, organizations, philanthropists, and investors to break cycles of poverty and dramatically improve the quality of life for those in need.