Resiliency now! Planning for the Next NormalKathy Keeley
(Image: Gregory Hayes)
As we enter the second month of the national COVID-19 emergency, I’d like to offer some words of wisdom for what I see as vital next steps. In short: This is the time to make resiliency planning your priority.
Resiliency is the most important concept for nonprofits to understand and achieve over the next 24 months. Replacing our drive for “sustainability,” resiliency is the ability to absorb a shock and come out better on the other side. The goal is not simply survival, but endurance – through the immediate COVID-19 crisis and the recession that’s guaranteed to follow.
So how do you get resilient? By building an adaptable organization, able to react quickly and effectively to changing circumstances by recalibrating programs, staff, culture, and strategy to ensure continued relevance, funding, impact, and viability.
Resiliency is the ability to absorb a shock and come out better on the other side.
As a long-time strategic planning consultant, I have extensive experience helping nonprofits achieve resiliency in a crisis; in fact, I spent the last recession assisting 34 organizations make it through to the other side. The perspective and tools I amassed through this work are fully transferable to this new crisis, in which the fundamental task before each of us, as I see it, is crafting a resiliency plan. That means thinking differently about strategy, in terms of the present-day emergency and what economists are calling the “Next Normal” – the conditions that lay ahead of us.
Moving forward, nonprofits have three strategic options to consider, which I call “reemerge,” “reorganize,” and “restructure.” Though different, all three options call for board and leadership teams to be laser-focused on the mission, realistic regarding funding and revenue, and sensitive to the needs of the community.
Reemerge is for organizations that will transition directly from crisis response to fielding a stream of emergency needs that may last for a year or more, at a scale greater than 2019. This is for those organizations that can go back to what they were doing by making tweaks to their programs – changes in how, not what, they deliver – and some adaptation regarding their funding streams. This strategy may be a good fit for human services organizations like food banks, shelters, and other emergency assistance organizations. Some arts and culture organizations may also be able to adopt a reemerge approach, particularly those with the reserve funds and other resources to hold on until their audiences are released from shelter-in-place requirements.
Reorganize is for organizations facing loss of funding, changes in community expectations and needs, or other external pressures forcing them to refocus their work – for instance, organizations that depend on money from state or local governments, where dollars will be stretched to the limit. Reorganizing means taking a hard look at revenue streams alongside what the community needs most, and reconsidering what you deliver and how you deliver it. For example, nonprofits that partner with schools for afterschool programs, youth development programs, or other initiatives should be thinking about how best to help low-income students without laptops or internet access, or those with learning disabilities who are no longer getting the structure or one-on-one attention that school provides them. Restructuring will call for some hard decisions, requiring more than a pivot for the short term crisis.
- Restructure is for organizations that have to rethink what they do given their community’s changing needs and a significant downturn in funding. This might be the strategy for small or just-emerging nonprofits that do not have financial resources in reserve, those that rely on earned income (like per diems or ticket sales), and those that depend on donations from individuals. This approach is not about weathering the crisis, but making the organization viable under a different set of expectations and financial norms.
Regardless of where you stand, every nonprofit organization has to ask these fundamental questions: How can our organization absorb the shock and come out viable on the other side? What is our plan to achieve greater resiliency? Which of the three resiliency plan strategies applies to us, and what does “reemerge,” “reorganize,” or “restructure” mean in our circumstances?
Just as state governors are debating how best to reopen communities and creating plans for action, you must plan and prepare for your organization’s next normal understanding that change will be constant for the next couple of years.
The GCN Nonprofit Consulting Group has already led a number of scenario planning webinars (available for replay here), providing tools and best practices for your immediate response planning. Watch for resiliency-focused tools and worksheets, available by early May, and be sure to take advantage of our upcoming May webinar on resilience (details to come). We also plan to hold a CEO forum, host an NU class, and start small-group consulting projects to help navigate this planning.
As always, please reach out to the Consulting Group with your questions about how to do resiliency planning and how to plan for the future. We’re here to help you succeed.
Kathy Keeley is GCN’s executive vice president of programs and a senior consultant for the GCN Nonprofit Consulting Group.