Nonprofit Leadership During a Crisis

Resilient Leadership

 You started the year with great plans and expectations, but sometime during the leadershipmonth of March, the work seemed to end. You may have had to close your office and possibly work from home. Your staff may have become apprehensive about working with clients. The annual fundraising event may have been canceled or postponed. You found yourself disheartened and in a state of crisis.

Stephen Covey once explained the difference between management and leadership. He said that if a manager is confronted by a jungle he would take out his machete and hack his way through it. As opposed to a leader who would climb to nearest tree, look around and proclaim that they might be in the wrong jungle. That is a somewhat simplistic explanation of the difference between management and leadership, but in a time of crisis what is needed is leadership. One cannot waste time blaming uncontrollable forces such as the Chinese or the government. Survival and prosperity through the crisis requires personal leadership.

Every year starts with a plan for success. It might include a formal business plan which includes a vision, assessment, mission, critical success factors, goals and action plan. It might be an informal plan which might include developing new clients, providing new services, increasing profitability, hiring new employees, or creating a new outreach program. Those plans are based on an assumption about the market and the economy in general. When those assumptions prove to be invalid, such as in the case of a crisis, the natural tendency is to discard the plan and hope for the best.

Revise the Plan

planLet’s consider an alternate to just discarding the planning process. The process was sound, but the circumstances upon which the plan was built have changed. The plan was built upon the observations and assumptions embodied in the internal and external assessment, more commonly referred to as the SWOT analysis. SWOT is an acronym for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Strengths and weakness are part of the internal assessment. What are the internal strengths of your organization and what are the weaknesses or limitations? Opportunities and threats are part of the external assessment. What opportunities, new or existing, exist now? What are the new threats that may upset the market and your ability to serve?

Start by revisiting those four areas: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. In each ask yourself the following:

  • What were the assumptions made when the plan was developed at the beginning of the year?
  • What is the current situation? How has it changed from several months ago?
  • What actions are required to adapt to the current situation?

In considering these issues, one is starting to adapt and revise the plan in a systematic manner.

A New Adaptive Plan

Throughout the history of business or strategic planning over the last 50 years, the question of “period of time” has often been considered. Initially the plans were developed with a ten year time frame. It was later realized, in today’s ever changing economic and technological environment, ten years was too long a period of time and included too many uncertainties. Plan horizons where reduced to 5 years and eventually 3 years. But in today’s crisis situation, planning needs to be on a short term basis first, such as 60 or 90 days. This is not to suggest that much of the original plan is invalid and worth pursuing. It is also not to suggest that much of this short range planning is only temporary and should not be incorporated into the organization’s vison and mission.

After revising the plan and determining actions required, new short-term goals need to be established. They must be SMART goals. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistically High and Time Based. See our article, Business Goal Setting, The Key to Growth and Success. Once the goals and plans are established, assign responsibilities and follow-up at regular intervals to evaluate any obstacles which develop.

 Examples of Adapting

 During this crisis, it is very encouraging to observe how organizations have adapted to the current reality. They are a credit to the free enterprise system.  Consider these few examples.

Civic organizations such as Rotary have partnered with the Salvation Army and food banks to purchase and distribute food to those in need.

Chambers of Commerce have emphasized the need to support local small businesses such as restaurants.

Churches have rallied their congregations to help parishioners and others in need.

Associations have replaced in-person meetings where members need to drive miles and incur lodging expenses. There is a greater frequency of virtual meetings and training sessions.

Can a Coach Help?


 Guidance by someone outside your business can be very helpful during these uncertain times. That outside guidance might be a friend or a business coach. A coach brings a wide range of experience working with other businesses and different situations into the decision making process. Don’t expect a coach to have all the answers, but they will help by asking you the questions which make the path forward clear in your mind.  It all begins with a conversation. RLS Focused Solutions offers a no cost complimentary initial meeting. Don’t hesitate to email us at and schedule that meeting today.