Navigating Financial Crisis Amid COVID-19 as a Nonprofit

We know many of you in the UYWI community are a part of nonprofit organizations. And we know that the nonprofit sector is feeling the financial pinch already, as a result of social distancing protocols.

However, know that we are here for you! We are in this together and will come out stronger than before. 

To ensure your ministry has the resources it needs to brace for the predicted financial recession that is coming, we invited Susan Tripi DeLano, our guest writer and a nonprofit leader and coach, to share 7 tips on how nonprofits can navigate this unpredictable time and maintain stability in programs, operations, and financial contributions.

Whether you are connected to a small nonprofit or a large ministry, I want to encourage all members of the UYWI family to remember God is at work amidst this COVID-19 crisis. He knew, long before our medical professionals, that this situation would come. Take courage and hope in knowing that God is with you; God is with your ministry; God is moving and working and providing in ways seen and unseen. Yet, amidst his provision, we must also take action. Right now, we must be willing to assess, pivot, and move in ways beyond our comfort zones.

I encourage you to breathe—exhale fear, anxiety, uncertainty; inhale the peace, hope, love that is with you at all times. I encourage you to center yourself in the palms of the One who is with you, before you, around you, and within you. I encourage you to limit the amount of time that you spend listening to the media and gleaning the internet for information. It’s important to be informed. But there’s also a point when too much information overwhelms and causes a state of anxiety. We all know the facts. We all know what we should be doing as far as our civic responsibility to help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. 

Rest in the One who has called you to a ministry context. He has not called you to fail or to fear, but to prepare, respond and shine! I offer the following seven tips to help your nonprofit navigate through this COVID-19 outbreak in a way that prepares your nonprofit for the next few months and ensures that you experience as few bumps along the way, as possible.

The first tip is to practice fiscal conservatism. More than fiscal stewardship, now is the time to demonstrate fiscal conservatism, to brace for the financial crunch that is predicted to extend over the next six-to-eight months. This means:

  • limit spending, 

  • reduce non-essential spending, 

  • go line by line through your budget and put a reduction to your expenditures, right now. 

This is not a time for expanding programs or expanding services unless you are in direct care services and on the front lines in the health sector. For all other ministry missions, this is not a time to expand. It is, however, a time to pause, to focus on maintaining your operations as they currently are, to focus on maintaining your programs and services “as is,” and to show responsible stewardship of your finances and your reserve. It is important to make sure that you maintain a financial reserve right now.

Part of fiscal conservatism also means reaching out to your existing donor base, your business partners, your foundation funders, and asking for a special financial gift right now, to help your organization plan accordingly so that you do not experience a loss in financial revenue and to prevent a disruption of services and operations. Asking for a special, one time gift right now will give your nonprofit a cushion to lean on during the next few months.

The second tip is to be very transparent with your staff, with your team, your volunteers, your donors, and your key stakeholders. Be upfront and honest about what is transpiring within your organization as a result of social distancing and the security measures that have been put in place to mitigate the spread of coronavirus. We know that while these are good measures—and it’s our civic responsibility to maintain and adhere to these government standards and practices—there will be unintended consequences as a result. In some cases, our leaders can predict those consequences. But in other cases, they just won’t be able to foresee all of the collateral damage that will happen as a result.

One way that you can navigate through this challenging time is to be very transparent and demonstrate responsible leadership. And by that, I mean leadership that doesn’t give in to the chaos, the hysteria, and propagation of misinformation. Instead, communicate very openly about the shifts and the changes that are occurring. Communicate very openly what your needs are, share the solutions that your team is generating.. By doing this, you will build trust with your community. They will turn to you and will look to you to provide the guidance and structure and evidence that you are stewarding your nonprofit’s resources well during this time. They will appreciate the honesty with which you are sharing about your needs. Most importantly, by sharing the solutions that you will implement, you will inspire donors to continue supporting your work because they see that you are taking measured action and it gives them a pathway to stay involved.

One of the reasons that donors stop giving during times of crisis is because the needs become so overwhelming and the needs become unclear. The more concise and specific you can be about your financial needs, about your program needs, about your operational needs over the next few months with specific dollar amounts—and not only specific dollar amounts but the number of financial partners that you will need at various giving levels to help meet financial goals—that information will inspire donors to continue partnering with you and to come alongside you during this time.

The third way that you can navigate through this uncertain time as a nonprofit, is to get creative. Start thinking outside the box. With challenges, opportunities for growth, opportunities to pivot, to shift, and to collaborate, present themselves. So it’s time to get creative in terms of how you will deliver your services, maintain your operations, own your communication and enhance your fundraising. Try new things during this time to stretch and grow.

We are entering an unprecedented time in our lifetime, and while certain pathways will require a traditional response and adherence to routine, protocol and practices, do maintain those. Don’t throw everything out. Now is a time to start thinking outside the box and get creative on how you plan to address the anticipated needs that will arise for your organization in the coming months. So pull your team together. This is not a silo-think tank. Pull your whole team together: your board, your executive team, your staff, your volunteers, your program participants, all your key people, and together, discuss options, discuss ideas. Every voice is welcome and every idea is a valuable perspective. While you’re brainstorming, give pause, reflect, regroup. This is not a time for rushing and making hasty decisions. Think through the ideas that are presented so that you can determine the best options for how you will show up in new, big, bold, beautiful ways so you can continue showing love, giving support, offering hope and encouragement to the clients that you serve.

The fourth way that nonprofits can navigate social distancing and maintain a stable presence is to develop a communication plan. With COVID-19, so much is changing minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. As we are seeing with the government’s response, we are learning new information from leaders around the country, in terms of how the Coronavirus is affecting citizens around the world and what they are doing to adjust and adapt strategy to mitigate the spread. You need to do the same with your community of supporters. Now is a time to be in regular communication with your community: your stakeholders, your board, your volunteers, your staff, the people that you serve, the community that follows you on social media, your donors, your email base, etc. Communicate often about the ideas your leadership is generating in response to COVID-19. Communicate often about the impact that it’s having, the gaps that you’re noticing, and the solutions that you are brainstorming to meet mend those gaps.

Communicate through multiple channels. This is a time to tap into every communication outlet that is available to you. For your key stakeholders, your primary donors, your major donors, your monthly donors, your foundation supporters, arrange a personal phone call with each one of them. Why? Because they have financially invested significant money into your mission, into your vision, into your organization. You owe it to them as part of responsible leadership to communicate how you are using their financial backing to steward the organization at this time. You also want to use this as an opportunity to share with them, new needs that are arising and new opportunities that are emerging as a result of those needs. Invite those same donors to make a one-time contribution to your organization, at this time. 

Send out a weekly e-blast. It doesn’t have to be lengthy. It can be simple, just one or two paragraphs. Share what’s happening with your organization. Share about the solutions that you’re generating, the questions that you have, the ideas that your team is discussing, the challenges that you’re facing. You’re also going to include in every single e-blast, a testimonial from a staff member, from a volunteer, from program partners, etc. Include a testimonial of support so that way your entire community can see that you are continuing to make an impact through your mission.

Start recording simple two-to-five-minute videos. Right now, more than written form, people are craving interaction through live communication. If you have a Facebook group, if you have a Facebook page or Instagram, start hosting a couple of live streams. Again, these don’t have to be lengthy, just a weekly check-in—no more than five minutes through which you share about what is happening internally within your organization. The same information that you’re sharing through e-blasts and personal phone calls with your donors and your major givers, should be the same information that you’re going to share in your videos so that you are demonstrating responsible, measured leadership.

The fifth tip for navigating this time is to shore up on the technology. Some of you already know that you are behind the ball when it comes to the technology that is needed to maintain a virtual connection. It is projected that social distancing protocols will continue beyond just the next three weeks. So, now is the time to gauge your nonprofit’s ability to communicate in the digital space. Can you host virtual gatherings right now? Many nonprofits are canceling physical gatherings and events. But rather than cancel and not have a backup plan, cancel and shift those events online. Now is the time to explore free tools like Zoom, GoToMeeting, Google Hangouts, Google Duo as options for hosting virtual community events.

You can also host online meetings and forums to communicate directly with your program participants to keep them all in the loop about what’s happening. You can also use these forums as an opportunity to connect with your donors to share information. Consider hosting bi-weekly sessions with your staff and volunteers to communicate status updates, progress updates, and any anticipated changes that are coming down the pipeline. Figuring out where your gaps are in terms of technology is a must right now, and it will put you in a much stronger position, post COVID-19, to be able to continue communicating with your community.

The sixth tip that I want to share with you is the importance of self-care. Nonprofit and ministry leaders often give, give, give, and give until they have nothing left to give. And when there is a crisis, that self-sacrificing tendency kicks into high gear. It is so important to put into place practices of self-care for you and your team at this time. Many government leaders are saying the impact of COVID-19 is going to be a marathon. This isn’t a sprint, nor is it a dash. What we’re dealing with right now,—especially with the economic recession that’s predicted to come—is a marathon in maintenance. And so that means finding a balance as a means to prevent burn out. Give thoughtful consideration to ways you can support each other. Adopt self-care practices that are fluid, consistent, dedicated measures that make your health and your mental well-being, your emotional well-being and your financial well- being a priority. Self-care is a priority, not a luxury.

Lastly, I will leave you with this tip. In unique times like the one we are in now—when uncertainty is present—it is easy for fear to creep in. It is easy for individuals, communities, and families to feel overwhelmed, especially those who are marginalized, who are already struggling to access resources. So now is the time for your team to shine. Shine by stepping up. Shine by showing up with consistency. Shine by demonstrating responsible leadership that creates calm during chaos—that helps perpetuate accurate information rather than feeding misinformation. Now is your time to shine in terms of stretching in the ways that you love and care for those who are served through your mission and ministry.  Now is the time to shine in the ways that will allow you to care for one another: Your staff, your team, your board, your volunteers, and your community-at-large, etc.. 

Now is the time to show up every day from a place of peace, of gratitude, and of informed decision-making that doesn’t feed into a mental state of anxiety, but helps create space for conversation that leads to answered questions and thoughtful solutions. So think about how you can shine peace, love, hope, at this time.

If you want to dive deeper into how to navigate financial constraints amidst this pandemic, request a free download of a resource Susan created just for this very crisis.


The featured art for this ARTicle comes from our friends at Thrive Collective in New York—early concept drawings from their #KindnessBeatsTheVirus brainstorm with New York artist, TOOFLY and New York City Students. With these artwork concepts, Thrive is asking students, artists, teachers, mentors, and #artivists everywhere, in the face of the Coronavirus pandemic, to join their #KindnessBeatsTheVirus challenge. Make sure to give Thrive Collective and TOOFLY  a follow on Instagram (@nycthrive, @toofly_nyc)


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