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What Maine Nonprofits Can Do to Prepare for Coronavirus (COVID-19)

by Molly O'Connell
Update: MANP has also created webpage to track resources and information related to COVID-19.

Just as we all carefully watch the weather during the season of icy roads and power outages (in Maine, we call that April), it’s important to be informed and prepared about public health issues that could affect our staff, clients and communities. Right now, the global community is carefully watching and preparing for the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). Regardless of whether your organization’s operations are ultimately affected by this particular virus, emergency preparedness is a good use of your time.

How Might This Outbreak Affect Nonprofits?

It’s important to note that there are no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Maine at this time. Should the outbreak spread, however, nonprofits may potentially face a wide range of impacts, such as:

  • increased and sustained staff and volunteer absences,
  • disruption of services to your clients and communities,
  • disruption of supplies or services provided by your partners,
  • cancellation of programs or events (and corresponding reduced revenue),
  • increased demand for services/support from your clients and communities,
  • budgetary implications related to strains on the economy.

So, what specifically can your organization do to prepare?


Employers play an important role in educating and reassuring employees, volunteers and visitors.

  • Talk with your staff team at a staff meeting. Reassure your team that you care about their health and safety. Let others know that you will be watching for recommendations from public health officials about whether you need to make any changes to how you do your work or deliver programs.
  • Remind employees of your organization’s policies related to illness and sick leave (and recommit to following them yourself!).
  • Place posters that encourage staying home when sick, cough and sneeze etiquette, and hand hygiene at the entrance to your workplace and in other workplace areas where they are likely to be seen.
  • Be mindful that different members of your team may perceive the threat differently or have special concerns based on their life circumstances. It is important to honor that. For example, persons with elderly family members may be especially concerned, and Asian Americans are likely facing increased racism. Leaders should be prepared to recognize, respond to and prevent stigma and discrimination in the workplace. Do not make determinations of risk based on race or country of origin, and be sure to maintain confidentiality regarding the health of specific employees. Speak out if you see this happening. (Seattle & King County Public Health developed a great infographic!)

Revisit Your Policies + Procedures

  • Review your policies related to illness and sick leave to ensure your policies and practices are consistent with public health recommendations and are consistent with existing state and federal workplace laws. Note that policymakers and state departments may update policies related to sick leave to respond to emerging public health recommendations.
  • Make it easy for people to practice good hygiene by providing tissues and no-touch disposal receptacles and placing alcohol-based hand rubs in multiple places in common spaces, such as conference rooms.
  • Prepare for the possibility of increased numbers of employee absences due to illness, caregiving responsibilities, school closures, etc. Does your nonprofit have the policies (and technology) in place to support remote work so that when appropriate, employees can get what they need done at home?Is there documentation that could be updated or cross-training that could be done in the event of key staff members being absent?
  • Develop a plan for communicating with your employees in a rapidly changing environment. For example, how will employees be updated if a policy is revised to align with new recommendations? Or in an emergency situation, such as the office needing to be closed?
  • Find more recommendations in the CDC’s Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease, which includes recommendations and considerations for creating an infectious disease outbreak response plan.
  • Find more resources on disaster planning, emergency preparedness and business continuity in our free, searchable Answer Center.

Bring a Risk-Assessment Lens to Your Event  and Program Planning

Should you move forward with planning that gala? Should you cancel that performance? Travel for that conference? Right now, the guidance is to proceed with common sense caution, but here are some things to think about:

  • What additional steps need to be factored in to your event planning timeline? What’s your deadline for making a decision about cancelling an event?
  • When and how will you communicate with attendees and partners? Who needs to be involved in decision-making and how will you keep stakeholders informed? Do you need to consult with experts to help you evaluate risks?
  • What is the impact of cancelling an event  or program on your revenue (from sponsors or attendees)? How can you plan for or mitigate this risk? Are there conversations you can be having with partners up front so there are no unpleasant surprises? Consider reaching out to your insurance broker to explore event insurance to mitigate impact in the case you need to cancel something important to your bottom line. [Update: Since posting this blog we have heard that event insurers have been specifically excluding coverage for cancellations in response to COVID-19 on all policies issued after January 2020. For a COVID-19 cancellation claim to be valid, the policy most likely would have needed to have been purchased before January 2020 and would have had to extend coverage to cancellation due to communicable disease. At this moment, any event that is canceled due to COVID-19, without an event cancellation policy in place prior to January, is most likely not insurable. More information from our colleagues in New York.]
  • Coronavirus: What You Need to Know About Cancelling an Event and Liability Risks, Event (Feb. 21, 2020)
  • The World Health Organization offers key planning recommendations for mass gatherings in the context of the current COVID-19 outbreak
  • Check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Coronavirus Disease 2019 Information for Travel 

What if There is a Confirmed Case of COVID-19 at Work?

  • Employees who are well but who have a sick family member at home with COVID-19 should notify their supervisor and refer to CDC guidance for how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure.
  • If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
  • Employees exposed to a co-worker with confirmed COVID-19 should refer to CDC guidance for how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure.

Stay Informed

8 thoughts on “What Maine Nonprofits Can Do to Prepare for Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Barb Wentworth says:

Thank you for this comprehensive and thoughtful overview focused on the nonprofit community and the potential impact related to this new virus. This was shared at a recent staff meeting and reinforced a review of our policies and practices.

Molly O'Connell says:

Thanks, Barbara – so glad to hear you found it helpful!

[…] Alert: How Novel Coronavirus [COVID-19] May Impact Nonprofits), Maine Association of Nonprofits (What Maine Nonprofits Can Do to Prepare for Coronavirus [COVID-19]) and The World Health Organization (Public Health for Mass Gatherings: Key […]

Megan Gean-Gendron says:

Thank you so much for this overview — it was very helpful and has been shared with our staff and we have added the links to our staff alert emails.

Molly O'Connell says:

That’s great! Thanks for sharing that, Megan.

Rick Dorian says:

Molly, this is very helpful guidance. Any recommendations for online meeting tools that are free/low cost and easy to access to limit group meetings?

Molly O'Connell says:

Great question, Rick. MANP members can save on Zoom online meeting subscriptions. We have this webinar scheduled for next week on how to run effective online meetings and events as well.

Additionally, many nonprofits have found success with, Skype, Google Hangouts, and GoTo Meeting. Idealware also has articles about online conferencing here and here, though the information is a few years old.

Finally, we have a compiled good resources on remote workers and distributed teams.

I hope that’s helpful!

Molly O'Connell says:

Also, TechImpact JUST announced this free webinar on technology tools you can use to adapt!

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