Leading During Crisis: The Nonprofit Response to the COVID-19 Outbreak

By March 18, 2020Uncategorized


The Nonprofit Association of Oregon sent an email out today to all members announcing they would cease in-person activities to comply with government and health authorities’ requests for social distancing in an effort to halt the spread of coronavirus, also known as COVID-19.

Their email listed several key points for nonprofit leaders to keep in mind during this time of crisis. With Washington state at the epicenter of the United States’ epidemic, and many nonprofits struggling to meet the growing demand for their services, it is imperative that nonprofits leaders lead by example, helping rather than hindering the efforts of our state and national leaders to combat the disease.

The following 9 tips for leaders can help you lead by example during this crisis.

Some of these points are inspired by Marian Saltzman’s article in Forbes and others are derived from our own experience.

Tips for Leading a Nonprofit During a Crisis

  1. Pain is unavoidable: Furloughs, pay cuts – consider what may happen. You may not be able to soften the blow, but you can deal compassionately with others when addressing these issues with your team.
  2. Allow working from home: Even if your company doesn’t currently allow employees to work from home, many in accounting, finance and marketing may be able to telework.
  3. Avoid spreading rumors: Encourage staff to utilize authoritative resources such as the CDC’s website on COVID-19 for updates. Remind your social media team and anyone who works with the public to refrain from commenting on the topic.
  4. Designate a crisis communication person. The director or public relations spokesperson should be coached on what to say and how to say it during this event. Avoid speculation.
  5. Speak positively but cautiously: No one knows when this crisis will end. It could be weeks or months before activities return to pre-COVID-19 normal. Remain positive and encouraging but refrain from giving false hope to people.
  6. Foster connections: Social distancing means everyone remains at home, but this also means we lose our connections to one another. It’s up to you as the leader of your organization to foster connections. Call employees and check in on them. Set up Slack, Skype or other instant messenger channels and use Zoom or another video conferencing system to keep everyone connected. Make sure that even if people are working from their homes, they still feel like they are still part of a team.
  7. Remain skeptical: During times of crisis, the mind responds to every perceived sign of danger, making some people prone to believing rumors and panicking at false information. Stay vigilant for this type of behavior. Remind everyone to remain skeptical of news sources especially social media, which adds fuel to the fire when well-intentioned people spread what they think is helpful information.
  8. Remember volunteers: Volunteers may feel disconnected during this time if they’re sent home abruptly. Check in with them too, and set up volunteer channels on instant messenger. You may not use them as frequently as you use the employee channels, but it’s a good way to remain in touch with everyone.
  9. Provide resources to stay healthy: For those nonprofits who absolutely cannot shut down entirely, provide support and assistance to those who must work. Put hand soap, hand sanitizers, and disposable paper towels near every sink. Sanitize hard surfaces with a bleach-based cleaner or another disinfectant recommended by the CDC. Ask employees to work six feet apart or more, the recommended distance for social distancing from the CDC. Bear in mind that if you work with the public, additional measures might need to be in place to protect the health and well-being of employees. Contact your local health authority or visit their website for specific guidance.

And, by all means, stay at home aside from necessary trips to the grocery store, gas station, or pharmacy.  Although you may not be among those at high risk for COVID-19, everyone is a risk of becoming a carrier and infecting others. We must unite during this time of national turmoil.

“We must hang together,” to quote Benjamin Franklin, or “we will assuredly hang separately.”

Welter Consulting can be reached by phone (206-605-3113) or through our website.