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Keys to Nonprofit Success in Complex Times

Creativity and resilience are critical to achieving your goals

NONPROFITS ARE INVALUABLE as they support communities who will suffer due to the combined impact of illness and economic repercussion caused by the virus and current economic volatility. This presents significant and unique challenges for the entire sector.

As the situation rapidly evolves, nonprofit leaders need to act with urgency, but also with thoughtfulness.

Social distancing1 may prevent the rapid spread of this coronavirus and compel nonprofits to temporarily shut down or curtail their revenue-generating activities. Safety net organizations must balance the likely increase in demand for their services with the potential drop in fundraising. All nonprofits need to plan for the possible impact of market volatility on overall organizational health.

As the situation rapidly evolves, nonprofit leaders must focus on aiding their constituents, protecting their employees and operating in a financially sustainable manner. They need to act with urgency, but also with thoughtfulness.

Below are suggestions to help address the key areas of operations, communications, fundraising, finances, and leadership, with tactical steps to alleviate pressure and support more stable practices.

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How to Stay Relevant
Four key strategies to consider in these times

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Be tactical

If your organization is in a position to help, you may see an increase in demand even while experiencing operational disruption and a drop in fundraising. Focus on what you can do right now with the resources you have.


It’s critical to keep everyone informed. You may need to use different formats and languages to speak to diverse constituents, including staff, board, donors and the population served by your organization.

Use technology

Meetings, conferences and fundraising events can be held remotely with free or low-cost technology platforms — and can even allow you to expand the guest list beyond people who might have attended in-person events.

Stay nimble

Be prepared to adjust expenses, your fundraising model, and where you direct your efforts — and keep in mind that as you weather the crisis, your organizations’ needs will continue to evolve and change.


Nonprofit organizations will need to think creatively about ways to fill revenue gaps to sustain their current operating models and also to respond to new needs.

Times of uncertainty are unnerving, but organizations that have existing plans in place will be better able to weather them. Nimbleness is important, but it is equally important to act in a measured, thoughtful way. Making extreme changes to organizational structure, your endowment model or your staffing can result in potentially unnecessary or unintended future consequences. Organizations that are caught off-guard by a disruption can take immediate steps to adjust, reduce expenses, leverage partnerships and continue fundraising efforts. Thinking carefully and leveraging your board and financial advisor’s expertise can provide continuity in a complex time.

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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Interim US Guidance for Risk Assessment and Public Health Management of Persons with Potential Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Exposures: Geographic Risk and Contacts of Laboratory-confirmed Cases.” Published March 7, 2020, page retrieved March 13, 2020.

Fleming Glennon, Margie. “Responding to the Coronavirus Outbreak: Resources to Help Nonprofits.” Published March 12, 2020, page retrieved March 14, 2020.

Gibson, Sara. “Coronavirus Advice for Nonprofit Leaders.” Published March 9, 2020, page retrieved March 13, 2020.

2018 Bank of America® Study of High Net Worth Philanthropy

Streiff, Justin. “Coronavirus and fundraising: don’t change anything.” Published March 11, 2020, page retrieved March 13, 2020.

Gibson, Sara. “Coronavirus Advice for Nonprofit Leaders.” Published March 9, 2020, page retrieved March 13, 2020.


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