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COVID-19 and Planning for What Comes Next

by Guest Blogger
MANP is pleased to present the following guest blog post by Jeff Wahlstrom of Starboard Leadership Consulting.
image looking down at shoes standing on chalk drawings of arrows pointing in different directions

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

“What’s our plan?” Even in the best of times, the pace of change and the unpredictability of the environment in which we work makes it hard to plan. So, in the shadow of COVID-19, when it is impossible to predict what will happen tomorrow or even an hour from now, how do you plan and what do you plan for?

I believe that it is still possible to be strategic in your planning–even now–but the timeline must be short. Rather than look three to five years down the road, you might look out three to five weeks, or even three to five days, but don’t just react. Plan.

Here’s how:

Return to the mission.

Your mission is your purpose for being. It answers the questions: “What good and for whom?” Go to the core. Ask, “If we could only serve or help one person tomorrow, who would that be?” With that composite client or customer in mind, ask, “If we could only provide one service to that client, what would it be?” The answer should help you to determine what is most important. Play this out a bit further, adding clients and services, one at a time, and your organizational priorities will come into shape.

Ask, “What DO we know?”

Take a few minutes to consider your organizational strengths. What is it that you do better than anyone else? In this moment, what is the role you can play or the service you are uniquely able to provide? And then, what are your vulnerabilities? What holes do you need to fill or patch to protect your organization, your staff and volunteers, and your service model? Bring these issues, and your fears, into the light of day so you can confront them directly and plan to address them.

Address first things first. Look back at what you’ve done in the first two steps above (don’t skip steps) and see what priorities start to emerge. These are the “must do” priorities that you need to do no matter what. If the list gets long, identify your top three priorities (or five at the most). Put an immediate action plan in place for each of these top-level priorities that details who is doing what and by when. You may want to stop there, or you can keep moving down the list, but make sure you have action plans in place.

Prepare for the “what ifs.”

It makes sense to incorporate some “scenario planning” into your planning process, which is where you might ask questions like:

  • What if we are without funding or revenue for X months or more?
  • How will we deal with sick or quarantined clients?
  • What if each member of our leadership team gets sick?

Now is the time to pose questions like these, anticipate how you’ll answer them, address identified weaknesses and hope for the best.

Communicate, communicate, communicate.

This is no time for secrets. Let everyone know that you are planning for any eventuality. Share your plan and your priorities with your staff, with your clients, and with your key stakeholders. Let your funders know you have a plan (or that you are planning) and let them know about your vulnerabilities or the gaps you’ll need help in filling. And don’t forget to talk with your current or potential partners. Describe what you have to offer and where you need help. We are all in this together, so don’t go it alone.

We are definitely navigating uncharted waters right now. Don’t let wave after wave wash over you. Get up out of the dark water and take a moment to get clear about your priorities and create a plan.

About the Author

Jeff Wahlstrom is managing director of Starboard Leadership Consulting and a MANP-endorsed provider of executive search services. He has more than 30 years of hands-on experience as a nonprofit leader, board member, and consultant to an extensive list of clients, large and small, throughout Maine. He regularly provides counsel to boards on governance best practices, leadership succession and transition planning, and strategic planning. Jeff has developed an online board self-assessment tool and strategic board recruitment toolkit for Maine nonprofits, and he is a frequent speaker on a wide range of board governance and nonprofit management topics.

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