Last week, I shared some lessons learned while leading a company through Y2K. It was a rocky experience…
Nothing like the virus threat we face today, but threatening in a different way, nonetheless. Leading a nonprofit through turbulence like this can be incredibly difficult. 

This week, I’d like to share some key lessons I learned the last time the stock market tumbled — hurting nonprofits, and make a few suggestions for how to survive. I think there are many lessons that we can apply today. 


What do you need to know to help your nonprofit survive?


1. Many donors are now reassessing their spending and giving out of concern for their own personal financial security.

Be careful that you don’t fall victim into thinking their previous financial support commitments are still as good as gold. Your regular giving patterns no longer apply. It most cases you can no longer count on your regular monthly donations or the major gifts you’ve been promised. On the bright side, depending on the type of services your nonprofit provides for clients, you may see a slight increase from new donors, wanting to help those in need during this crisis. 


2.  Cash is king in any environment but especially in this one.

Find ways to preserve as much of it as you can. Defer purchases, new hires, etc. You may also want to think about credit. Are there any SBA or low-interest financing options for your agency? 


3. Cut now if necessary; do not wait and hope things will improve.

Review your current nonprofit expenses to see which ones can be eliminated or reduced. Launching new programs or ventures or any expansion plans are bad ideas right now. Can you reduce office expense by having people work from home? 


4. Re-recruit your stars.

It is only natural that staff and volunteers will worry about job security or whether the agency will “make it’. Stay close to your key people so they know you support them. Provide as much safety and security as possible for your team. Can you offer them work-from-home options? Can you afford to give a slight bonus or other benefits to those that still need to come into the office? 


5. Try to re-confirm major gift commitments made by donors.

It might feel a bit awkward, but you’re trying to lead during a period of significant unknowns, and you can be upfront about it. Having tough conversations now, will help provide critical information about your future, giving you as much time to plan for changes as possible. 


6. Assess all of your existing programming.

Does everything still make sense? Are any not delivering expected results? Now may be good time to trim unsuccessful programs in order to save your most valued and successful services. Can you identify your critical services? It will be easy to fall into the mindset of thinking that all of your services provide value, and they likely do. But in this situation if you continue to do everything, you may end up being able to offer nothing. Choose your services based on their most critical impact and/or cost to provide. Those that don’t make the cut, need to go, in order to preserve others. 


7. Ask yourself: “What would my successor do in this case?” … then do it.

Granted this may be a bit fatalistic but it will get you thinking in ways you would not normally entertain. In difficult times one of the hardest things, can be to find a new or helpful perspective. Imagining yourself as being replaced might be just the insight you need to make tough decisions. 


8. Do you have any nagging ideas you’d like to try or changes you’d like to see happen in your agency?

Maybe now is the time to implement them. My advice? Just do it! If you know your agency well, as many nonprofit leaders do, you may already sense changes that need to happen, programs that need to be cut, possibly even personnel changes. I encourage you to go with your instinct to lead your agency to better places. 


9. Get into the hearts and minds of your clients.

Are they losing jobs or experiencing a reduction in their hours? What do they need to cope? Can you step into those gaps or approach others to step up and join you? Do your clients need food, rent money, utilities money, transportation, or medical services?


10. Speak with other leaders and identify ways to collaborate.

You know there are things you each do better than the other. Now may be the time to shed certain activities and refer clients to others who do them better than you, or vice versa. Can you partner with other agencies to provide people with more specific help? In times of crisis people panic. They may be looking to you not only for basic services, but for direction and hope as well. The more resources you help them reach, the more you will be able to offer stability in these difficult times. 


I’ve said it before, and I’ll likely say it again, because I believe it whole-heartedly.

Leading a nonprofit may be one of the toughest leadership roles there is. I give so much credit to executive directors, board members, and staff that are in leadership positions. It can be gut-wrenching to choose between those you help, especially if your agency doesn’t have the resources to continue serving all that you have.

I would be honored to donate a few moments of my time to help you as a leader during this difficult time. If I can offer you support, or lend an ear to listen, or advice to help you strategize, please reach out. I want to help however I can. You can contact me via my site, or reach out on Linkedin.