Leading a non-profit in a time of crisis

 

If you are a CEO or Income Generation Director reading this today. I want to start with giving you a very heartfelt and very virtual high five. Day by day, hour by hour the stuff that you thought was pretty stable and OK is suddenly rocked to its core.

BUT, as a sector, we are I think pretty well adjusted to challenges:

  • Our services are often reactive, our funding often unpredictable. With all resources we expend constantly under public scrutiny, we are painfully aware of the responsibility we have to invest wisely, to be focused on delivery but also to be thinking of the bigger picture. It’s a tough balancing act and one that we often feel we aren’t doing effectively.
  • We have a flawed governance structure. We know that some of you have terrific Chairs and Trustees, but a lot may have a disconnected, process obsessed and rather fixed Board. The motivation can often be lacking, the accountability rather confused.
  • In the Income Generation space, we have staff who are perhaps less motivated by money than their equivalents in sales or marketing in the private sector but who still yearn for the personal and professional development needed to propel their learning and performance. We need to give these opportunities and create the culture of innovation, risk taking and discovery whilst being prudent. Who’d be a charity leader eh?

I guess this is a long way of saying… you’ve got this!

You are some of the most resilient and resourceful people in the world. And whilst the context has changed irrevocably, you know how to do a good job just now.

Here’s some thoughts why:

  • A few of us at AAW were musing on which services provided by the Third Sector WOULD NOT be affected by this global pandemic and we drew a blank. This will be impacting on pretty much every charity from a beneficiary point of view. So, in terms of service delivery this is not the time to hunker down and singularly plough your own path. Partnerships, collaboration, deploying outreach to a community basis, mobilising volunteers – all of this could really help. Whilst this is not the time to take risks, it is the time to be brave.
  • The next biggest issue after meeting the needs effectively of the beneficiaries you exist to service is of course income generation. It feels a little like the Wall Street Crash of 1929 doesn’t it? Or various black Wednesdays and Fridays when literally overnight your whole 12 month forecasted income is dust. And you are watching this in real time. To be honest, I think we are all still in shock and shock does odd things. Your initial reaction is to pull back, cut and cautiously redeploy. But breathe deeply and as hard as it may seem, think about the bigger picture.
  • You, as one of the best Fundraising Directors out there, have spent your whole professional life championing wise investment, pushing for prudent but stretching forecasting, arguing the case for business critical, big picture change management processes, bringing in brilliant talent. Nothing should change the fundamental core of your leadership. You know what to do. Maybe where to start is the problem. So if you need a little bit of help my AAW partner has pulled together a great tool which is available here, which is a bit like a virtual SWOT. Check it out. And as the very wise Mark Goldring says in his very fine blog on leading in crisis: “You can often make better and less damaging choices on how to balance the books by releasing some reserves and making responsible decisions including investments.” Remember Mark’s words. It is crises like today’s that reserves are meant for. In ordinary times, Fundraising Directors are asked (often unfairly) to produce rabbits from hats. In a crisis this just isn’t possible and everyone – the CEO, the Finance Director, the Services Director needs to pull behind you.
  • And so to the most valuable resource you have at hand to help you through to the other side – your team. When I was a charity CEO and Fundraising Director, I led teams through many emergency periods – whether that was in response to a humanitarian crisis or during times of huge financial uncertainty where jobs and futures were at real risk.
  • What got us through was each other as corny and predictable as it sounds. But the advantage I always had was the office. The long hours physically working together – the stand-up briefings, the difficult but oh so vital 1:1s, the cups of tea made, the Pret run shared, the drinks in the evening – all helped with the sense of ‘one team’ and the absolute belief that we could do this even when things were crumbling around us.

It is incredibly challenging to motivate a team when you can’t actually physically be with them. But communicating with and providing motivation to your team is your most important job just now.

  • By now, you will have all downloaded various tools for face to face communications and whilst some of you may be uncomfortable using these and thinking ‘do I really need to switch on my video’ the answer is yes. The wonderful neuroscientist Professor Sophie Scott has proof that ‘facetime’ via these apps is nearly as good as in person contact. Having these meetings and using these tools one to one or as a team is not only a very effective way of communicating and working together but also has a hugely beneficial impact on people’s mental health. Particularly if they are self-isolating alone.
  • So now more than ever your visibility physically is needed. We at AAW have heard wonderful examples of team ‘tea times’, Friday afternoon drinks, brainstorm sessions. We’ve been asked to facilitate planning meetings, workshops, internal briefings. Today, technology is really our friend. So reduce comms on email, text and Slack – get online and eyeball.

I am sure after this crisis we will all go back to being very British and restrained. But can I end with something rather culturally uncharacteristic – a hug. We ain’t big huggers at AAW but today it just feels right.​

This article was first published on the AAW Partnership blog as The Next Day – The Recovery Begins