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  • Crina

Planning for the Unknown: A Guide for Non Profits Navigating Covid-19

Updated: Apr 9, 2020

Leaders of nonprofit organizations are simultaneously navigating immediate, major change while planning for a very uncertain future. In an effort to support executives and boards as they think about the the next 6-24 months or more, I've compiled the following.

This list will change as we know more information, so check back regularly for updates.

Latest Update 4/9/2020





1. Funding will be impacted significantly due to:

  • Reduction in tax revenue at the local, state and federal level

  • Reduction in investments from foundation funders due to a shrinking stock market

  • Reduction in donations from individuals due to shrinking stock market, lost wages or fear of the unknown

  • Reduction in sponsorships from businesses 

  • Reallocation of government and philanthropic funding to organizations on the front lines of the pandemic

  • Services such as unemployment, food, healthcare etc. to support impacted individuals

  • Events and galas will either be cancelled or significantly impacted due to fear and/or social distancing requirements.

2. You will need to work harder to have your message heard if you are not on the front lines of the pandemic.

3. It is highly unlikely that we will go back to business-as-usual when this is over. The way you deliver programs, manage your staff, engage with elected leaders, invoice for services, access money can and will likely change.

4. Staff, board and community will be looking to you as a community leader. You can provide stability, calm, honesty and integrity.



  • Read  The Founder's Field Guide for Navigating This Crisis, While this is directed at founders and startups, much of the information applies directly to non profits and Executive Directors/Boards.

  • Start scenario planning for a reduction in income for the next 2-5 years. Here is a spectacular template produced by First Round Review and Notion.  

  • Apply for the CARES act loan ASAP.  

  • Consider appyling for an SBA Disaster Loan 

  • In addition to federal funds, you may qualify for assistance from your state or city government. Grants, loans and other programs are being added regularly so stay abreast of the most recent opportunities in your area.

  • Get your financials and your reporting in good order. It is very important that you have access to the most accurate, useful tools to make important decisions.

  • Get to know your banker and explore a line of credit now...when your finances still look strong. 

  • Talk to your vendors, including your landlord or lender, about extending terms if things get tight. 

  • Resist the urge to pinch every penny. If you focus too heavily on finances you will perpetuate a scarcity mentality with staff, board and supporters which can have a domino effect.


  • Maintain your relationships with existing funders. They are your partners and want to see you succeed. Be honest with them as you wrestle with the reality of your work, your ability to deliver your programs, and the challenges you are facing.Remember that grant officers and funding boards are digging in and answering the question, “how can we help?” so be sure to let them know!

  • Talk to your funders about converting program grants to general operating grants; Increasing grants or offering a second round this year; Relaxing requirements on reporting or paperwork; Extending deadlines; Whether they have discretionary funds that they can allocate. Many grant officers have a small pool of money that they are allowed to donate.

  • Evaluate the ROI of all fundraising activities and invest those that are low-cost/high-return (recognizing that not all activities have an immediate financial return.  Building and maintaining relationships is very important and should not be overlooked).

  • If you live in Washington State, keep an eye this resource for special funds in your area:

  • Explore ways to innovate during C-19. Organizations are already shifting to online, zoom auctions, virtual galas and remote house parties.  While you may actually be able to host your big fundraising gala this fall, it is highly unlikely. Efforts to course-correct now will pay off!


  • Think of new ways to package your programs to new funding sources, but beware of mission creep and “chasing the money.”

  • Get honest about your programs and the impact they have on your mission. Is it time to ditch that under-performing project or program? Or maybe it’s time to double down on the new idea that will highlight your organization’s innovation and value in the community.

  • Look for ways to innovate. Many programs, projects and even new organizations are born in the midst of major change. Check out this great article that might inspire you to think big. 


  • Find ways to keep your key staff involved and motivated. You’re going to need them! 

  • Start thinking about how you’re going to intentionally maintain your culture and boost morale. When resources get tight, innovation and creativity suffer, morale suffers and your culture changes

  • Invest in communications and fundraising expertise if you can afford to. You will raise your profile and likely raise more money as a result. Plus, you don’t need to do it alone!

  • Be honest with your staff, but don’t be alarmist. It is not their job to bear your burden. 

  • Relax and have some fun.  Remember, you want to keep morale high and retain your staff if you can. Turnover SUCKS!

  • Work with an attorney or a board member to understand and stay up to date on changes to unemployment benefits. Staff who have been laid off or who have had their hours reduced may be eligible for benefits, even if they’re still working. 

  • Invest some time in understanding how to navigate and manage change. You and your staff may be experiencing transitions very differently and the more work you do to acknowledge, manage and nurture these changes, the better you’ll all be. William Bridges is a great resource for information and ideas re: transition management.


  • Be honest with them and direct their energy toward building/nurturing relationships.

  • Get clear about what is your job and what you need from your board. They will have a hard time resisting the urge to micro manage if things get tight.

  • Start talking about your fears, your plans, your concerns with your executive committee.

  • Make sure you have a functioning finance committee and a treasurer you trust.

  • Suggest your board read and implement these recommendations from the San Diego University School of Leadership and Education Sciences. 

134 views2 comments


Apr 16, 2020

Thanks, Crina. Really solid and useful advice. This is the first time I've had a moment to read something other than what's urgently on my desktop. We're running a marathon. It's nice to remember to keep a steady pace - not too fast, not too slow.


Apr 09, 2020

Good stuff Crina, we just applied for the PPP loan the government is granting for some relief.

People can reach out to their banks even if they are non profits to cover payroll and some utilities for the next two months.

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