In these unprecedented times when COVID-19 continues to spread and to impact almost every individual and organization across the world directly or indirectly, non-profit organizations or non-government organizations (NGOs) are also deeply affected now and in the times to come. As it is not yet clear what the current pandemic situation holds in future, it is important to balance the scale between panic and carelessness. Preparedness is key.
What this means for NGOs?
This would mean:
- Being prepared to minimize or manage the disruption and the financial implications at this time and the times to come
- Safeguarding the well-being of:
- Your staff and volunteers
- The community
- Donors and other stakeholders.
Before we discuss how you may ensure the above, here are some pointers on managing your NGO in the times of COVID-19, if you run or manage an NGO:
- Stay Informed:
First and foremost, information is key. Regularly checking for guidelines and instructions from the Government/ local bodies and international bodies like WHO should be included in your daily to-do list. Make sure you are up-to-date with such instructions and guidelines and you (your NGO) complies to them as required.
- Spread the word:
Share the universally accepted advice around COVID-19 prevention and management. E.g. WHO advice on Coronavirus disease here: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public
- Search for funding opportunities:
If you are working at the frontline on COVID-19, look for funding opportunities locally and globally. There are many such opportunities available now and the list is growing every day. For example, in India, the Ministry of Corporate Affairs has announced that the funds spent by companies in the prevention and management of COVID-19 would fall within the definition of a company’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) obligations. This would mean a surge in corporate spending in the sector and the work of many NGOs can benefit from this. Across the world, there are many funds and grants being established to tackle the impact of Covid-19. Here is an example: Link to such funds in the UK: https://fundraising.co.uk/2020/03/23/funding-to-tackle-covid-19-and-its-impact/. Look for such opportunities in your country and region and see if your NGO is eligible.
- Prepare for financial implications:
Prepare for the financial implications by creating a plan for managing the unavoidable fixed costs, managing cash flow, delaying the expenditures that may be delayed and basically getting into lean management mode. Check the government portals and those of local authorities around any support being offered to non-profit organizations. Some countries are offering extensions on filing annual returns. This varies from country to country and region to region and there are many platforms compiling this information on a real time basis. Make sure you are aware about them and by doing your research.
- Comply with agreed reporting and use time for donor stewardship:
Make sure you are on top of things around funder reporting and financial accountabilities. This will make sure you receive your upcoming donation tranches in time. Check with the funders if they are adjusting any reporting requirements or are suspending them to support the NGOs. With individual donors, keep them updated and ask how they are doing. Keep your donors updated about the steps you are taking to handle the situation, how you are managing your organization and how you are supporting staff and beneficiaries.
- Share your challenges and actively seek support:
Speak to your funders about the challenges your NGO is facing due to the current situation or if any particular program is suffering. Bring the points to the table with honesty and figure out the solutions together. Many funding agencies have come forward to offer support to the NGOs in these difficult times and a discussion around solutions will help you now and in the long run too.
- Figure out finances and budget:
To ensure your projects and programs stay on track, you might need to up your fundraising efforts and to dig into your reserves. This is the ‘rainy day’ all of us prepare for. It may not be ideal but might be needed in these times. Depending on the community you serve, it might happen that the beneficiaries may need increased support now and for some more months. This would also mean more resource requirement. Once you have a handle on the current situation, prepare for the next year. Involving your board and key staff members, budget for increased contingency costs over the next year too.
- Co-learn with peers globally:
This challenging time presents a great opportunity to learn and grow together as non-profit professionals. All across the world, people are exchanging ideas, learning to come together and try new things, sharing experiences and lessons. There is so much learn- from guidance for NGO leaders, for fundraisers, community workers and so on. One example of very useful guidance for fundraisers by the Institute of Fundraising (UK): https://www.institute-of-fundraising.org.uk/news/information-for-fundraisers-about-coronavirus/
Key Considerations for various stakeholder groups:
- Prepare a plan for your organization and your staff. It does not need to be a complicated one. Focus on your core work and programmes. Assess how the program delivery is getting impacted or might get impacted in the coming days or weeks. Filter down to the ‘core of the core’ activities of your program delivery that must be and can be carried out. Assign responsibilities and make them clear to everyone in the organization.
- In many countries, now the official government advice is to stay at home and work from home barring the essential services. Follow the government guidance as applicable and strictly comply with it. Provide information to your staff and volunteers about COVID-19, ways to prevent it, handwashing advice, how to report, what to do if suspected sickness, and so on.
- If you have an office space still running, make sure that the handwashing facilities and cleaning regimes are in order in adequate measures. Provide adequate hand sanitizers, tissues, cleaning products in the space for staff and visitors. Display the handwashing technique and other hygiene related relevant information in the form of images and posters at relevant spots in the office space. Ensure that the cleaning regimes are in place to sanitize the hard surfaces frequently.
- If your staff travels for work, make sure the travel is minimized or cancelled. Check the local conditions for this and manage events like meetings online where possible. If not, recheck your plan and modify or cancel any such events for now.
- If your staff is working from home, create conducive work-from-home opportunities. Provide them with planning, guidance, hardware and software for their work. Focus on the outcomes and check with them regularly depending on their roles. You may use video calling or video conferencing apps and platforms- Skype/ Whatsapp/ Zoom- any that works for you. Provide the staff with emergency contact details and make them feel supported.
- If any of the staff members is sick and/or needed to self-isolate, they must be given paid sick leave. In many countries, it is mandatory for the organizations. Follow the government guidelines and policies and ensure compliance. If needed, modify your policies and support your staff in these difficult times.
Community and Beneficiaries:
- Some of your beneficiaries or community members may be at risk of being impacted by COVID-19. These groups may not only be people with health conditions, elderly people, etc. but may also be the socially marginalized vulnerable populations. Play your roles in spreading awareness and information, educating them about the preventive measures and last but not the least, showing care and empathy.
- Very important and mentioned above- Share the universally accepted advice around COVID-19 prevention and management. E.g. WHO advice on Coronavirus disease: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public
- Manage the program activities in the way possible within your area and local conditions. If not possible to continue your programs, make the community aware about the current situation and the specific challenges you are facing, how you are managing the situation and what you are doing to support them.
- We must remember one more risk the communities (and everyone) might face due to this pandemic- mental health issues. Physical distancing is unavoidable, but one can offer support via other mechanisms. Many NGOs are running helplines to support those in self-isolation or those who are simply facing mental health issues currently. Think of ways in which you can support your beneficiaries.
Donors and Stakeholders:
- Regular communication (emails) from NGO leader (e.g. CEO) around the steps you are taking to deal with the situation
- Keep them up to date and do not shy away from sharing your challenges, steps being taken, and so on
- Include information around how you are managing your organization, how are beneficiaries getting impacted and what you are doing to ensure safety and care of the beneficiaries/ community you serve
- Use social media. Even in emails, use photographs/ videos and other interesting media instead of emails full of text and boring data
- Email them with basic information around what they can do to prevent Covid-19, what to do if they think they have symptoms, etc. Agreed, this information is available everywhere but coming from a trustworthy source matters and reinforcement would be best during these times
- Raising money is very important for the financial health of your NGO during these times and the coming months when we may anticipate repercussions. Do not shy away from asking. Keep up with your fundraising, modify strategies and appeals as needed. For example, if you were to ask for an infrastructure project for your target community, change your plans as now it will be of no use. Instead, make plans on dealing with the current situation at hand. For example, many NGOs are intensively working towards awareness around COVID-19 in the communities, supporting mental health of communities, distributing protective/ preventive gear and so on
- Pick up your phone and call donors. If you have an advanced donor data management system and you know your donors, ask them how they are doing. Update them how you are managing the situation. Everyone is sitting at home and they would be more than happy to chat, to be heard, to be cared for. Add your message around raising money if needed. Ask them, ‘It was great chatting with you. Please know that we are here for you. It would be great if you can continue supporting us… Please make your gift for our XYZ campaign via ABC…..)’. Educate your staff about the COVID-19 guidelines and prepare them for making these donor calls. It should not be hard and with your staff working from home, this must be doable. Prepare a script, train your staff (online/ phone) and get going.
- Organize webinars, social media catch-up events, live social media events and invite the donors and stakeholders to join them.
There will be unavoidable and unprecedented impact of this pandemic worldwide. But the solution is to ‘flatten the curve’ of the negative impact for your NGO by being proactive in your overall approach, by managing the situation at hand and in the end, trusting that the whole world is in this together. The situation is full of chaos, but at the same time it is a great opportunity for the development sector- to show that we are there for what we stand for- social care, support and development.
In the times of Covid-19, here are some do’s and don’ts for your NGO: