If your nonprofit organization was dangling on the edge of existence before, there’s nothing like a crisis to throw you over the cliff.

In normal times, when organizations move forward in a day-after-day predictable pattern, executive directors and board chairs can get by with lack-luster leadership. They can go through the motions and the organization will continue to function.

But in a crisis, capable leadership makes all the difference.

Mediocre Leadership vs. Strong Leadership in a Crisis

Mediocre leaders wring their hands:

  • They sit back and wait.
  • They cancel board meetings.
  • They use “hope” as a strategy.

Strong leaders step up:

  • They plan.
  • They envision.
  • They communicate.

Strong leaders evaluate the situation and develop specific plans and models for getting their organization through the crisis. They develop powerful messages and clear communications. They gather facts. They encourage people to be honest and straightforward. They initiate opportunities for brainstorming and encourage creativity.

Strong leaders use times of crisis to motivate and empower their staff and board to be part of the solution.

Stabilize Your Organization, Then Envision a Better Future

Times of crisis provide a remarkable opportunity to take stock and reevaluate how you will operate moving forward.

Begin by creating a stabilization plan to make sure your organization can survive. The plan should take a hard look at the reality of your situation.

Assess your projected income for the year and put it against your expenses. You might develop different models so you can evaluate the alternatives as the future unfolds.

Do Not Fire Fundraising Staff

Do everything you can to keep your fundraising department intact. Cutting the fundraising program is cutting off a revenue stream, not an expense.

Instead, work with your development office to build alternative models for fundraising, again using best to worst case scenarios.

Engage Board Members

Share your plans with your board leadership. Clear planning will give your board confidence. But it’s up to you to inspire them to be courageous and to grasp the opportunity to reimagine your organization. Help them help you imagine new, more efficient and effective ways of carrying out your mission.

You Have a Stark Choice to Make

You can wring your hands and wait. You can stop communicating because you don’t know what the future will bring. You can stop talking to your board and your donors because you’re not sure what to say.

Or… you can lead!

If You’re Ready to Be a Capable Leader and Lead…

If you want to lead, start by developing plans. Not plans based on fear, but plans based on your commitment and willingness to move your organization forward. Create plans that capture the spirit of what might be.

In normal times, just showing up works. But in times like this, when it’s imperative to raise money through a pandemic and a faltering economy, you’ve got to do more. Way more. And if you do, you will be well rewarded by your staff, your board members, and your donors.

How has your organization’s leadership stepped up during this challenging time? Share your example(s) in the comments below.


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