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15 Leadership Lessons for Nonprofits Navigating a Crisis

May 12, 2020

This article is from Forbes

Businesses everywhere have been affected by COVID-19, and nonprofit organizations are no exception. In addition to the widespread disruptions of the pandemic, nonprofits may also face unique struggles, such as a lack of funding and difficulty running programs. That's why strong leadership is more challenging and more important than ever.

Below, the members of Forbes Nonprofit Council share 15 things they've learned (or are currently learning) about leading a team through a crisis. Follow their advice to help your own organization navigate this pandemic.

1. Gather Inspiration From Frontline Staff

All African countries were predicted to reach 10,000 COVID-19 cases by early June or sooner. Think of Somalia, which is estimated to have only 15 ICU beds for the entire country. As we confront this crisis, I am inspired by what I learn from our frontline humanitarian staff, who deal with life-or-death crises every single day. As leaders, we should look to their dedication and compassion as examples. - Charles E. Owubah, Action Against Hunger USA

2. See Culture As More Important Than Ever

The best leaders take organizational culture seriously. Grounded in our core values, culture reflects our team members' ethics, ideals and individuality. It's no less important in this time of crisis. To boost employee morale and continue driving our mission forward, we must nurture the positive attitudes, distinctive personalities and solution-oriented approaches that define our organization. - Dan Lambe, Arbor Day Foundation

3. Stay True To Your Company Values

While the current situation is unprecedented, the response need not be. In good times and in bad, it is important to lean into your mission and values to guide your organization's communications to your external constituencies. Ensure your internal team is nurtured through genuine and transparent communications that support their physical, emotional and financial wellbeing. - Jeremy Wheaton, ECMC Group

4. Practice The Four Cs

It's important for all of us to recognize what each team member is going through, the insecurity and uncertainty each of us feels and the adjustments we are all making in this virtual working world. I try to be calm in my communication, remain committed to our purpose, project confidence in my decision making and perhaps most importantly, be compassionate during these trying times. - William Sisson, World Business Council for Sustainable Development North America (WBCSD North America)

5. Make People And Values The Core Of Everything

Regularly remind your team what brings you all together, keep people at the center of what you do and rally around values such as respect, transparency and open communication to build team resilience. Be sensitive to worries and anxieties, provide flexibility and remain transparent about both challenges and successes to rally your team around your shared mission. - Melissa Kushner, Yamba Malawi

6. Keep Talking

The human connection is key to any group's success. As leaders, we need to make sure our lines of communication are open, honest and supported, no matter the topic. The best way to reach our goals individually and together is to check in with each other on a regular basis, start new dialogs, answer questions, encourage and welcome feedback, address concerns, celebrate triumphs and repeat. - Genevieve Piturro, Founder, Pajama Program

7. Remember That Creativity And Collaboration Will Strengthen Trust

When faced with a crisis, effective team members resolve not to give into fear or despair. Good leaders step up their game and create energy around creativity and collaboration. They resolutely encourage each other and spread optimism to others up and down the line. A crisis can create the opportunity to strengthen trust among team members, even if it was not always there in "normal" times. - Thomas Bognanno, Community Health Charities

8. Trust Your Staff

With everyone working in different places, it is imperative to trust your staff to make the right decisions and give them the support they need to do so. I tell my staff that I am here when they need me, but otherwise, I am going to get out of their way and let them do what I hired them to do, even in these difficult times. - Tom Van Winkle, Hinsdale Humane Society

9. Learn To Listen

We know we need to communicate and in fact, overcommunicate, especially during challenging times. During a crisis that is affecting every aspect of our team members' work and personal lives, we also need to ensure that we are listening and really hearing our staff and stakeholders. Ask, probe, listen and then listen harder. Only then we will know how we can best respond to our teams' needs. - Traci L. Baird, EngenderHealth

10. Keep Consistent Communication

Everyone enters a crisis from a unique place and point of view. Because of that, a steady stream of communication is a common and necessary link. Overcommunicate about everything so that every staff member feels connected. Spread optimism, ask questions, engage them in conversations so that they continue to feel part of something. Continuously refer to your mission as the North Star for your work. - Tammy McLeod, Flinn Foundation

11. See A Crisis As An Opportunity To Reinvent

Think of this situation as an opportunity to reinvent, think fresh and see new ways of doing things. As Albert Einstein famously said, "The answers have changed." Let's not be afraid of trying new things and finding new answers! The time is now and our members count on us to do that. - Magdalena Nowicka Mook, ICF (International Coach Federation)

12. Focus On Engagement And Outcomes

These unprecedented times are redefining work and interpersonal dynamics. We are working to keep staff socially engaged and focused on vital activities that are explicitly tied to outcomes, giving a temporary pass on some of the mundane administrative tasks. We have also challenged all staff to work on personal/professional development including reimbursements for online courses. - Thom Ruhe, NC IDEA Foundation

13. Remain Calm And Communicate

Anxiety is a natural response to a crisis. People experience and express anxiety in interesting ways. For these reasons, clear communication is essential. Share your goals with your team as they emerge and identify avenues for their input along the way. Remain calm and reorient your team to the grounding principles for your shared work and goals. - Acooa Ellis, Greater Twin Cities United Way

14. Think Long Term

In order to maintain your organization in times of crisis, it is imperative to zoom out of short-term focused goals. We must balance short-term success with long-term health indicators and make sure we're doing a good job of managing the two. This way we can make sure we're building organizations that create impact beyond our lifetime. - Chris Marlow, Help One Now

15. Stay Connected

Be visible. Right now, that might look like being on camera for virtual meetings, scheduling informal virtual coffee dates or more formal office hours or recording a video message for staff and stakeholders. Be present on email and available for chats. Even when separated by geography and time zones, we all need to feel connected to colleagues. You can't lead if you can't be seen. - Anu Kumar, Ipas

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