The COVID-19 pandemic has touched virtually every aspect of life – including the nonprofit sector. Shelter-in-place orders meant that museums and other cultural institutions shuttered for weeks or months. Schools and community centers also closed, leaving clients unable to access a variety of services. All the while, countless fundraising events have been cancelled or postponed.
Add it up and nonprofits are facing a convergence of challenges: Finding new ways to engage foundations and donors. Adapting programs and services to a post-COVID world. And preparing to address demand surges as skyrocketing unemployment leaves more individuals and families vulnerable. As states continue reopening, we’re all navigating a “never normal” – and nonprofit leaders must quickly build innovative strategies to outmaneuver the uncertainty.
The Girls Scouts of the USA are already providing an inspiring example. As CEO Sylvia Acevedo has shared, the organization responded to the pandemic not with short-term measures but with a long-term, strategic outlook. They developed a strategy “to seize the crisis as an opportunity to ‘fast forward’ to providing Girl Scouting in ways that are fun, relevant, safe, and that foster a sense of belonging for girls, whether the experience is in person or virtual.”
What’s more, when the pandemic made it impossible for many Girl Scouts to sell cookies through traditional in-person tactics, the organization quickly pivoted to a digital solution: the Cookie Cares website. This national site helped direct prospects to local council sites, where buyers could purchase Girl Scout Cookies for themselves or to be sent to first responders, hospital staff, pharmacists, grocery store clerks and other frontline workers.
I’m not suggesting that every organization will face the same obstacles or opportunities as the Girl Scouts of the USA. What I would argue, however, is that ANY nonprofit would be wise to follow the Girl Scouts’ lead when it comes to innovation and digital transformation. Long committed to digital, the organization’s previous investments were key enablers to its quick and successful response to COVID-19.
Is your nonprofit prepared to pivot – and keeping pivoting? The pandemic isn’t over, and much uncertainty remains around the virus. This isn’t the time to “wait it out”; this is the time to make bold moves that position your nonprofit to thrive today and tomorrow, across physical and virtual environments.
In upcoming blogs, I’ll take a closer look at some specific challenges nonprofits are facing in the wake of COVID-19: funding volatility, the need to adapt programs and services, and surges in demand for those programs and services.
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