Nonprofit Board Members: Leadership Tips for Uncertain Times



As a nonprofit board member, you have much to deal with right now, as you might in any time of crisis.

It’s a tough position to be in, because board membership carries a lot of responsibility. The board is the legal authority entrusted with protecting your organization’s mission and ensuring financial stability.

In the current environment, you are probably being pulled in many directions.  There are some board members who may feel panicked and cry “the sky is falling.” They may want to hunker down in a bunker.

But we encourage you to look at the uncertainty from a perspective of hope and creativity. Your organization always needs leadership and a plan – but right now it needs these two things more than ever.

Leadership strategies and attitudes for times of crisis

A leader calms people down and pulls them together around a plan. Your stakeholders – employees, donors, volunteers, clients and the people you serve – all want to know what is happening right now – and what is next.

Yes, you need to calmly sort out what is happening today.

Overcommunicate to everyone, why some decisions are being made.  Be particularly transparent about financial decisions.

Your employees are an organizational asset

And don’t forget empathy and compassion – your employees are one of your organization’s greatest assets. If they are laid off, you will hopefully need them again in a few months.

If your staff is working from home, juggling difficult routines and technologies, sorting through family and space issues, you’ll need to be supportive and kind to them.

As a leader, you also need to look at the bigger picture and position your organization to be ready for tomorrow.

With all this disruption – working from home, learning new digital skills and platforms, re-tooling events, managing virtual meetings – new tools and approaches will emerge.

This is a chance to grow and innovate. Encourage creativity and be willing to try out new ideas.

Create a continuity plan with creative revenue strategies for right now.

Yes, you could be in financial free-fall, particularly if you are an organization with substantial earned income from ticket sales.

However, you may be able to generate earned income from new sources.

We are seeing amazing creative revenue approaches showing up in our in-boxes. Approaches that would never have been offered before now.

Organizations are offering all sorts of virtual experiences, products and tools to their clients/supporters – who will gladly pay for anything to help them manage through these times.

We’ve seen- just this week:

  • a shuttered botanical garden suddenly offered online gardening classes.
  • A local arts center is offering virtual programming for kids stuck at home.
  • A local theatre created a virtual theatrical experience.

All of these generate badly- needed revenue.

Can your organization raise money now, or not?

By all means you need an immediate and innovative fundraising strategy. We outlined one here last week.

Why should you raise money now?

Well, for one, your organization may be experiencing an urgent financial crisis. It’s your job as a board to ensure financial stability.

Don’t forget: you have a revenue-generating program available to you – it’s your fundraising program.

If some board members think it is unseemly to seek support right now, you need to ask them politely to get over themselves. They are not asking personally. This is not about them personally. It’s the organization’s mission that is doing the asking.

Remember, your organization’s donors are people who love you and your work. They believe in you and feel like they are partners in your mission.

Your donors really want to know what is happening at your organization, which is one of their favorites. Yes, they want to hear from you – and they want to know what you need.

Going to your donor base with an appeal right now is perfectly appropriate. But the ask is very different. It’s more human, authentic, personal and specific.

Connect with your major funders, right now.

Your major funders clearly consider themselves as key partners in your work. One of your top priorities should be to connect with them.

Share your financial picture, as transparently you can. Then ask, honestly, for what you need.

This is how you approach a key foundation or institutional donor. With specifics.

BOTTOM LINE: Leading Nonprofits in Times of Crisis –

It’s a big job that takes creativity, inner strength. Look at the big picture in the long run.

There are opportunities amid this crisis for your organization to reinvent some of its services, programming and products!