Nonprofits on the Front Lines of COVID-19
The following post published on March 11th, 2020, on the website of The Ontario Nonprofit Network (ONN) and is being republished here with permission from ONN. It provides many excellent tips and resources for nonprofits operating during the COVID-19 pandemic. The resources provided may be highly useful for those working in other settings, as well.
Nonprofits are on the front lines of our communities — in good times, challenging times, and times of community crisis. Dealing with a fast-moving virus-like COVID-19 is not and will not be an isolated incident. It is essential that our sector be prepared and lead by example.
More than ever, it is important to learn from each other, ask for help, and share resources. Your peers are your greatest assets! Ask them how they are handling this situation, what decisions they are making and why. If you are a member of a provincial association, ask them for advice and an opportunity to learn from each other. Meet with fellow nonprofit leaders in your geographic communities and share tools and strategies, as well as questions and concerns.
Our sector has a critical role to play in terms of communication, to reinforce the importance of trusted information sources. We also need to lead the way in addressing racism and xenophobia directly. As community builders, we need to counter misinformation, prejudice, and discrimination.
We’ve gathered below a few resources and strategies to help your organization navigate this time.
While the attention of nonprofit organizations will be on immediate concerns — keeping our programs and services going, supporting our staff and/or volunteers, and keeping up-to-date with current information, there will be additional stress because of how our sector is funded.
Some funding agreements stipulate outcomes for the number of participants and these might not be met during a health crisis. Other funding sources nonprofits count on, like sponsorships and donations, may be at risk if programs or fundraising events are cancelled or postponed, or if the stock market continues to wreak havoc on investments. There are serious implications for nonprofits and charities if governmental and nongovernmental funders and donors back off during this time or reinforce expectations for outcomes or outputs which will not be manageable or even possible.
We call on funders, grantmakers, and sponsors to be flexible, supportive, and communicate clearly with the organizations they support.
If you’re part of this vital sector support: Ask organizations how they are doing, what you can do to support them, what impact this is having on their work and their financial bottom line. Be as creative as you can in your solutions and walk alongside them so we can learn together.
Our sector — and our partners and supporters — can model the way and enable the most important work in our communities to continue even, AND especially, during challenging times.
Keep us posted. We’ve got your back.
The Ontario Nonprofit Network (ONN) team — Liz, Cathy, Lynn, Jay, Jacquelin, Erin, Teshini, Melanie, John, Pam, Randall, and Sarah
Only rely on information provided by public health authorities to make decisions that affect your employees, programs, and services. Here are trusted sources of information:
- Local public health units:
- Public Health Ontario
- Public Health Agency of Canada
The Government of Canada has published an Outbreak Update web site that tracks the current situation in Canada. Nonprofit organizations may find the sections on preparing communities, workplaces, and schools and daycares helpful in reducing the spread of infection. For instance, employers are encouraged to promote good hygiene, and consider flexible work arrangements and paid sick leave options..
The federal government also provides advice for international travellers, as well as health notice updates for specific countries. The update site also provides information on Coronavirus and First Nations communities.
The Ontario government has a dedicated web page for COVID-19 updates. It offers information on the number and location of infections in Ontario, as well as specific advice for people working in the provincial healthcare sector. The Ontario government also provides information for travellers returning from affected areas.
Business Continuity Planning
In an ideal world, we’d all have business continuity plans ready at our fingertips! If you do, now is the time to dust it off and ensure that everyone on your team knows what your plans are. If you don’t have one, now is the time to put together a small group of team members (which could include board members or volunteers) and craft a plan. Be sure to address:
- Who makes decisions during this time and what criteria do they use to make decisions?
- Who, when, and how do you communicate with your staff, volunteers, clients, program participants, and stakeholders such as partners and funders?
- What “business” functions are critical to maintain and which ones can be cancelled or postponed?
- Do you have contact information handy for key people — such as board members, staff, partners, professional services (such as bookkeepers, accountants, lawyers), funders, etc.?
- If you have an office, do you have access to critical organizational information should the office not be accessible? E.g. back-ups, storage on the cloud, etc.
- Communications, Protection, and Readiness (CPR): NPower’s Nonprofit Guide to Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery
- Organizations working with newcomers can find advice from the information sheet for service providers published by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
Nonprofits as Employers
For those nonprofits that are employers, now is a good time to revisit your policies and procedures regarding staff communication, sick time, and remote work. And an even better time to make a commitment to decent work practices in your organization that will help smooth the way for healthy staff and a healthy workplace! Consider:
- Communicating clearly and often with your teams
- Paid sick time and flexibility regarding these policies and processes if warranted
- Remote work possibilities for those who have roles that do not require them to be physically present
- Access to mental health supports for those who are experiencing anxiety or fear during this time
- Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA)
- Getting your workplace ready for COVID-19, World Health Organization
Addressing Racism and Xenophobia
- A few things for nonprofits and foundations to consider in light of the Coronavirus, by Vu Le, Nonprofit AF
- Statement Against Discrimination and Xenophobia, Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI)
Nonprofit Meetings, Events, and Conferences
This has been a big topic in our sector. And top of mind for ONN as we plan our fall conference in 2020. It really is up to your organization to decide what’s best for you — in terms of both organizing and attending events. Currently, there is low risk in Ontario and there are no restrictions on events from public health authorities. But it is timely to consider:
- Cancellation policies – both from vendors (such as venues and caterers) as well as your cancellation policies if you charge registration fees
- Can you provide access to meetings and events virtually? Time to learn those platforms!
- Consider clear communications when you send meeting invites such as: “Currently, this is an in-person event. However, if public health circumstances change we will switch to an online platform or reschedule. We will be sure to notify you in advance and provide login and other relevant details.”
- What is your plan B (or C…) should circumstances change? Who makes the decision and what risks would your organization face, such as loss of revenue (e.g. registration fees, sponsorships), health risk of spreading the virus, reputational risk, etc.?
- Consider booking travel only when events are confirmed and travel advisories are not in place to the location where you are travelling.
- Risk-informed decision-making for mass gatherings during COVID-19 global outbreak, Public Health Agency of Canada
- Guidance for Large Community Events/ Mass Gatherings, Toronto Public Health
- What is Involved with Changing a Physical Event to a Virtual Conference, Communiqué
- NTEN’s statement and video about their decision to host their upcoming nonprofit technology conference (communication example)
- Risk mitigation tool for gatherings and events operating during the COVID-19 pandemic, Government of Canada
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