4 Things Nonprofits Can Do Now, to Better Adapt to Uncertainty

June 18, 2020

With all the uncertainty brought on by COVID-19, there’s one thing we know for sure: nonprofits across the sector have questions and concerns about how to adapt.

In a poll we conducted during the first session of Elevate’s Summer 2020 Conversation Series, nearly two-thirds of nonprofit professionals surveyed said they were actively concerned about how they should be adjusting their budget, strategic plan, and programs — and in what timeframe.

Additionally, nearly half of the nonprofit professionals surveyed reported uncertainty about how fundraising is impacted during times of crisis, how policies and practices are changing among both government agencies and the funding community.

All of this points to a common question about where we go from here, and how to do things differently in an era of COVID-19, racial injustice, and civic activism. 

Last week, we kicked off our semiannual Conversation Series with an interactive panel discussion featuring leading thinkers and researchers from Independent Sector, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, and the Nonprofit Risk Management Center. Our conversation addressed many questions about how nonprofits can respond in the short-term, take practical risk, and plan for the future — even when the future feels uncertain.

Below are some of the top few takeaways from last week’s panel discussion on how nonprofits can move forward in spite of the uncertainty we’re all facing.

1. Ask your funders for what you need

As all three of our panelists echoed, this is a great time to talk to your funders, if you haven’t already — particularly if you’ve received restricted funding. Across the board, we’re seeing that funders want to be supportive, and they’ve been willing to unrestrict grants and be flexible in unprecedented ways. Don’t be afraid to be proactive, start a conversation with your program officer, and ask for what you need.

Related: How to Fundraise in Times of Crisis or Uncertainty

2. Be willing to take risks, and lean into innovation

Melanie Lockwood Herman, Executive Director of the Nonprofit Risk Management Center, spoke to the importance of risk and experimentation with a sense of balance. Nonprofits should definitely be willing to take risks, and to ask for funding to do things they haven’t done before. In fact, funders right now have been very open to discussing new ideas and ways of doing things! But if every initiative for which you’re seeking support is very risky, you’ll end up with an unbalanced portfolio.

When it comes to your approach to fundraising and any new programs or initiatives, some ideas should be very experimental with a lower chance of success, but you should also be pursuing funding for programs that have proven success. Aim for a balance.

3. Prioritize Advancing Equity

Related to the previous point about innovation: as your organization thinks about innovating and evolving, advancing equity should be a priority — one that helps shape the ways you think and talk about your work moving forward. As Allison Grayson, Director of Policy Development and Analysis at Independent Sector put it: “We cannot rebuild the system we had before, we have to build it back better and in a more equitable way… as a nonprofit organization, I would think about how my mission ties in with that narrative.”

4. Start Planning now for business continuity

It’s important that your organization has a continuity plan to ensure your ongoing ability to deliver services in spite of interruptions, both on a short- and long-term basis. For example, while we may be seeing increased giving right now, it’s likely that we could see decreases over the next six years. This is more proof that now is the right time to be talking with your funders and making the case that unrestricted general operating support is going to increase your organizational sustainability over the long-term.

Related: Every Organization Needs an Emergency Preparedness Plan. Here’s Ours.

About the Author:

Michelle Anthony LaCroix