As the executive director of my organization, I know I should be reacting faster to the pandemic, pivoting the organization, realigning our goals in light of the current environment, finding new and innovative ways to fulfill our mission… all of the things the experts have been preaching since we succumbed to the quarantine six weeks ago. I’ve tried; I really have. I just feel somewhat paralyzed and overwhelmed by it all. I know I’m not doing enough. I’m worried my board expects more, but I feel like I’ve missed the boat. Is it too late to set us up for a smoother road to recovery?
Pandemic Procrastinator (né High-Functioning Executive Director)
Dear Pandemic Procrastinator,
Oh, to be the woman who is thrown into a global crisis one day and wakes up the next with her frizzy hair blown into beautiful submission, full makeup applied and most certainly not wearing lululemons under the kitchen-counter-turned-office-desk. Oh, to be ready to face her first day in quarantine with her usual vigor and can-do attitude. I can tell you; she is not me, and she was still not me several long weeks into this mess.
I was once that person who often opened the office at 7am, fully caffeinated, tasks flying off the to-do list one after the other – check – check – check. A classic introvert in my personal life, I am a professional extrovert, feeding off the energy of those around me, reveling in ad hoc conversations with colleagues about ways to do things better, collectively brainstorming approaches to client challenges, laughing with my staff over the latest episode of “The Bachelor” (don’t judge). I can’t remember the last time I used a sick day; if I’m out of the office on a weekday, I’m either with a client or sipping an aperitif on the banks of the Seine (ah, the good ol’ days of international travel). COVID-19 launched me right into No Man’s Land. Maybe you can relate.
So first of all, don’t be too hard on yourself. You are not clearly alone. Heck, there are people out there attempting to do the very same things we are while simultaneously homeschooling children. (Maybe you’re even one of them!). In fact, think of it this way: If you were able to honestly report that you took this crisis-like-no-other effortlessly in stride, and pivoted instantly to a new way of thinking, being and running your organization, I’d have to be worried about you.
What I hear you telling me is that you haven’t absorbed all 4,938,000.05 Zoom webinars (Zoominars?) that you’ve sat through on steering your organization through the pandemic. (“.5” because – let’s face it, you left at least one mid-way through). And you haven’t unlocked the key to inspiring preoccupied donors to support to your not-directly-related-to-COVID-19 mission. And you haven’t yet mapped out your detailed plan for surviving and thriving years into an unknown future.
It’s ok. But it’s also time to get started.
Let’s focus first on some key concepts: rapid response and quick, sound decision-making. I share my thoughts on these secrets to shifting your direction here,—since, to quote S&W president, Scott Schultz, “No, you cannot stay the course.” Scott’s seen it all in our 33 years of working with organizations across the country, including how they’ve handled other crises, like 9/11 and the 2008 recession. Scott shares his advice here.
Next, remember that as you chart your corrected course, fundraising will be key. Whatever you do: Do. Not. Stop. Fundraising. If you’re getting pushback on this front, respectfully share this article from the Chronical of Philanthropy with the offending parties, and stress to them that in the past, nonprofits that stopped asking for philanthropic investment during troubled times took the longest to recover.
Unsure of how to go about asking for money in this crisis? Check out these guidelines from my colleague, Sarah. From hitting the right tone in your appeals to exploring meaningful new forms of stewardship, Sarah’s got the answers.
While we’re at it, I should ask if you have effectively engaged your board, tapping into their full potential during these uncertain times? If your answer is “probably not enough,” here is some great advice from my colleague, Jean. She offers wise thoughts about drawing strength from your board now when you need it—and at the same time using this crisis to create a more engaged and effective board going forward.
And of course, there’s plenty more your fundraising team could and should be doing right now to ensure the road to your organization’s recovery is smooth. For instance, check out a new series developed by our very own data analyst, Mary, focused on improving your fundraising operations. Sometimes a radical break from business as usual means the chance for your team to focus on infrastructure issues they’ve never had time for.
Don’t beat yourself up over the general malaise that’s plagued the best of us; just resolve to do better. You got this.
So let’s raise our quarantinis and have a virtual ‘cheers’ to better days ahead.
Yours in isolation,
P.S. Feel free to share my reply with your chief development officer. If you’re feeling a bit slow-to-action, it’s possible your CDO is following by example.