The Covid-19 pandemic has every intention to push us to the brink however, it will make us stronger, more proficient and economically savvy.
There is no doubt that most nonprofits will be creatively finding ways to assist their communities; either supporting local school children who are missing out on their daily meal, relieving families cramped in shanties for 24 hours a day, sheltering the homeless or pivoting to support a group that had not been considered before.
With over 228 000 registered non-profit organisations (NPOs) in South Africa, the sector has collective power with local knowledge. The nonprofit sector thrives in a crisis. The sector operates in a perpetual whirl of crises mainly due to insufficient funding, insufficient human capital, insufficient technology.
The President reminded us in his Covid-19 address on Wednesday, 13 May, that when the HIV/Aids pandemic reared its head some 20 years ago, we were losing loved ones every day, it was the non-government organisations that government recognised as its most valued partners for solutions.
What is different this time? This time it is a race to save thousands of lives, we need speed, agility and a can-do, will-do attitude!
Some NPOs will jump right in with a plan, others will need time to ponder and consider their options, whatever you do don't shrink away, your country needs your heart, hands and talents, now more than ever before.
Sharing lessons-gained, we can learn together, consider the following:
- A crisis and disaster plan has to be in place. This is often overlooked during tiresome strategic planning sessions as the risk and assumptions debate is glossed over.
- Solid media strategies; how will you get your messages out to your key audience; clients, communities, donors and partners. What tools, platforms will you use?
- Forming mergers with other community organisations and faith-based structures to ensure a rapid response, such steps are vital during natural and manmade disasters pandemics, flooding or fire outbreaks. During lockdown Zoom, MSTeams and other conference or social media tools have assisted with this process.
- Your team and board members to discuss how salaries will be paid. Should you divvy up what's available and share the pie? Should you forfeit payments now and recover later? Should you apply to the government for assistance?
- One of the immediate needs will be funding as a priority. Key-players and leaders will have to take control and directly get involved with talking to supporters explaining the role the organisation will play now and after the crisis.
- A rainy day fund or reserve money might be utilised to pay salaries and operational costs but do not be tempted to dip into Endowment Funds or Bursary money that has been ring-fenced, be careful, check specific investment mandates and terms of legacies.
- A quick relook at strategic plans with a quick pivot to accommodate changes/challenges for the next two or even three years as life will be different.
Grantmakers will shift focus for the next two to three years. The word development will take on a new meaning, perhaps linked to revitalisation. The impact of our work will be measured by saving lives through awareness, prevention, stigmatisation, personal hygiene, carers programme for the elderly and pre-schoolers, online learning for all institutions, therapy for mental health issues, cost-effective use of technology and more. Get ready the list will be endless!
Revive your plans and strategy for the next three years, life will take a different shape from hereon.
The sector will need to work closely with the government and we must negotiate better deals and not be a silent partner. We will no longer be a 'cheap date' in dealing with the state.
But don't you dare give in or give up!
WRITTEN BY: Ann Bown, a semi-retired financial sustainability consultant with more than 30 years’ experience in the non-profit sector.