Look right but feels wrong,” Cityswift

June 6, 2020; North Carolina State University

Despite the fact that many states are still seeing a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases, most communities around the country have officially reopened for business. After months of either self- or externally imposed quarantine, doors are opening, and people are beginning to re-engage with the world. That includes nonprofits, many of which are resuming non-virtual activity.

One of the byproducts of this is a tidal wave of guidelines for how nonprofits should re-engage and reopen. Almost daily, we receive emails regarding what we “must” do or “critical” things to consider.

But which of them should we actually pay attention to? We need a guide to the guides! This is by no means a comprehensive list, but a sampling of what is out there.

Most of the information that’s available is about the specifics of keeping an office environment safe. This includes information posted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which is directed at schools, office buildings, churches, and so on. So, the information is not specific to a nonprofit, but it is important if yours is a space where people come to work or to receive services. The website offers basic information and access to a more detailed download.

Of course there are also many guides that essentially want you to buy the presenter’s products and services, like Salesforce.

There are three guidelines that are more specific to nonprofits and offer more than just how to clean your space. One is from the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits. They have developed guidelines you can download that offers some very detailed thoughts on how a nonprofit should go about re-opening. Another is from the National Council of Nonprofits. Theirs is a very comprehensive, but almost mind-numbingly detailed roster of external resources.

Interestingly, however, one set of guidelines that caught our eye is from North Carolina State University (NCSU). The article posted online captures the findings of “Management of Nonprofit Organizations,” a masters level course. What makes this “checklist” different, is that they went beyond the basics of cleaning the workspace, ensuring social distancing, and keeping lines of communication open with donors and board directors. All of which are critical, of course.

As a closing exercise, the students were asked what nonprofit managers should think about and do as they prepare to reopen. Some of the ideas they generated are different than those in the run-of-the-mill guidelines.

For example, the students encourage nonprofits to revisit the budget. There will have been unforeseen expenses involved in adjusting to business during the pandemic that the budgeting process never even thought of. Similarly, revenue streams will have been affected in ways we never could have predicted. Some groups, such as arts organizations, will have seen lost revenue as donors shifted to funding basic needs. The nonprofit should look at how this affects the budget and make adjustments accordingly.

The same is true of the strategic plan. When it was written, no one had even heard of COVID-19, let alone figured out what impact it might have. So, now is a good time to back to that drawing board and re-visit the strategic plan, using this as a chance to think about what is coming with the new normal where we will be living.

There are other issues, like risk management. Are your insurance policies ready to cover whatever risk may be incurred in reopening during this pandemic? Program delivery: have you learned anything during the period of working remotely? Some nonprofits have found that using online tools like Zoom has enabled them to reach clients they had never reached before. Perhaps program designs need to be adjusted to allow for continued use of these tools.

So, kudos and thanks to the students of this course at NCSU. The article about their work is brief, but it also has links to many resources that help the reader go deeper into a topic. Without getting into too much detail, they give a lot to think about. Let’s hope these students enter our sector and roll up their sleeves to help.—Robert Meiksins