Advantages of Age
We are often reminded that getting older is a negative thing as, for example, some of us are at higher risk for more serious COVID-19 illness, others are slowing down professionally, and some are losing connectivity to our younger generation. But then there are those of us who are fully engaged, energetic, and fearlessly tackling the challenges of the day and creating solutions for what lies ahead. I fall into the latter category and am fully involved with leading through this current crisis. I am also finding that my age and experience are great assets as they provide me with perspective.
I have seen much of this type of disruption before, and I have learned to embrace change and seek the opportunities that change will present. So, as nonprofit professionals, what should we be thinking about at this moment? Whether we are an executive director responsible for managing a nonprofit, a chief development officer needing to adjust to the telework environment and manage staff remotely, a program manager caring for the well-being of a beneficiary, or simply learning how to be impactful from afar, the recommendations are similar for all.
Below are several suggested actions I recommend leaning in to when navigating the current environment:
Health and Wellbeing: It is imperative that each of us follows the recommended actions that will keep ourselves healthy during this health crisis. We are all responsible for our families, our colleagues, and business associates to contain this virus. We want to be in a position to lead, each in our own way.
Demeanor: I have found time and again that we can all be leaders during crises by adopting simple “lead by example” techniques. First and foremost, be calm and thoughtful. Premature and harsh reactions feed the sense of chaos. I am a fierce advocate of remaining calm and projecting a strong, thoughtful demeanor. Use this as an opportunity to listen and learn.
Communication: Technology today has revolutionized our ability to quickly and effectively communicate. At Orr Group, we use Zoom for every internal call with staff and every external meeting with partners. The ability to actually see every participant, hear speakers clearly, and share screens – all simultaneously – is the next best thing to being in the room. The ability to communicate virtually is crucial to remaining productive at times like this. For those of us who have already tested and are using more advanced communication techniques, the idea of working remotely has little impact on our ability to be effective.
That said, now is also the time to pick up the phone and call and engage your partners, your friends, and your family, because we are all experiencing this unprecedented situation. Relationships will deepen as a result, and that applies to client and donor relationships, as well as staff interaction.
Opportunities: Capitalizing on the uniqueness of what we are all experiencing is almost always possible if you think creatively and strategically. In the context of managing a nonprofit organization, there are three questions I always ask myself: 1) What are the long-term goals? 2) What problems are we seeking to solve? and, 3) How can I motivate those around me to excel and be passionate about their work? It is during moments like these that I find myself stepping back and thinking strategically. Why? Well, everyone wants to understand the vision and mission of the organization, and when we are truly tested by adverse environments, it is a wonderful time to take one step sideways and realign the strategic plan. I recommend involving key constituencies to build consensus and ownership, keeping the process abbreviated and high-level, and using the outcomes to motivate staff and volunteers around the new plan.
There are numerous opportunities that will apply to your situation; focus on your strengths and use them in the most impactful ways to guide your mission.
Leadership: Nonprofits and companies alike are driven by solid leadership. For nonprofits, it is essential to raise funds, and strong volunteers play a critical role. This is a moment to engage with those volunteers, the ones who fund the organization and the ones who impact and drive the programmatic mission. Within the organization, each staff member can be a leader in their own manner. Everyone can have enormous impact by staying focused on the goals, communicating often, and leading by example.
Fundraising: This environment will surely lead to changes in the way we raise funds. In 2008, the real impact to nonprofit budgets, as a result of slowing fundraising outcomes, came in 2009 when it was clear that expenses needed to be cut. We do not know what will happen this time around, but if the current turmoil leads to a recession, we can expect our campaigns, major gifts programs, corporate giving, and events to be affected. However, it is far too soon to assess the true impact, and therefore, it is essential to double down on the fundraising work. Have conversations with all of your donors and utilize the various methods of virtual communications you have available. Use moves management processes to ensure the proper sequencing of touches. Make sure you are intimately familiar with planned giving techniques so that more creative gift structures can be offered and negotiated with donors. And finally, be very strategic with the changes that will be made with the timing and approach used in all events, whether fundraising or cultivation.
Some of us have experienced great turmoil before. Now it is our responsibility to use past lessons learned and commit to gaining new perspectives from this unique situation. We have built Orr Group around the principle of uniquely assessing each individual organization and individual’s situation. We often talk about being entrepreneurial at Orr Group, and at this moment, being nimble, smart, and creative are exactly the traits that are needed to propel us forward.