Leading: Creating A Plan for the “New Normal”

Apr. 23, 2020

David Edell

We have been speaking to nonprofit leaders on how they plan to lead their organizations forward in the post-COVID world.   People are scared and looking to their leaders for comfort and guidance about what is next.

For nonprofit organizations, there is much to be learned from how the sector navigated through past health, political and financial crises. In each case, the human cost focused on the important services that community nonprofit organizations provide. Similar to today, as unemployment added to the rolls of those in need, nonprofits were called upon to do much more in terms of healthcare, social services, and education, even as government funding and private donations declined for at least one year after the crisis.

This crisis is different. Nonprofits must create a new “playbook” about how they are moving through this crisis.

However, this “playbook” is not about how to get back to the previous normal, but about the opportunity that this crisis has presented to create a “new normal.”

The “new normal” will cause organizations to embrace and integrate the many new experiences in work, technology, communications, and service that this crisis has forced us to test. It must address issues such as:

  • New financial models
  • New organizational structure and methods of deploying staff to implement programs and services
  • New uses of technology
  • New fundraising programs
  • New uses of office space and how to congregate for meetings
  • New methods of communications, both internally and externally
  • New ways for volunteers to be involved in program and governance
  • How to determine if some organizations will need to close, merge or off load critical services or programs to others who can support them


These are leadership lessons for CEO’s, Board Chairs and Boards from our experience and conversations with nonprofit leaders:

  • Take care of your people first:
    • Self-Care for CEO’s and Board Members is critical. You will not be able to provide creative and energetic leadership if you are exhausted or overwhelmed.
    • Your staff are mostly home and working under the multiple pressures of work, family responsibilities, teaching children, caring for parents and the effects of isolation. They are also concerned about jobs and financial security. You must check in with all of them regularly to acknowledge their experiences and fears and to lift them up as best one can.
    • Your volunteer leaders, like your staff, add the responsibility of their leadership commitments to your organization to their work and family obligations. They may also be facing professional and financial challenges that do not allow them to participate or donate at previous levels. You must continue to communicate with them and to welcome their participation and involvement. This will be important to them and the organization in the future.
  • CEO’s and Board leaders must establish a new level of mutual respect and trust.

Facing unprecedented challenges requires a new level of communication, support, sharing of responsibilities and excellence in governance that may be new for your organization and its culture.

  • Seek and use the expertise that exists among your staff, board, other professional colleagues, and others throughout your community.

Creating a new “playbook” provides an opportunity to engage and learn from people who have not been part of your organization’s orbit in the past.   People with expertise in Law, Real Estate, Finance, Healthcare, Social Services, Philanthropy and Organizational Development can bring new thinking to your organization’s planning that talking within your bubble will not.

  • Be real and honest in your evaluations and communication.

People will respect a data/fact-based evaluation that supports decisions. Most people understand that fundraising will not reach the levels of prior years or that many organizations will not be able to maintain the size of staff and operations.  They expect that not all programs will be able to be continued and that the organization must be facing change and some pain as it adjusts to a new reality. The messages must describe the current situation and also present realistic and optimistic goals.

  • Focus obsessively on your organization’s mission priorities and ensure that you can deliver those programs and services with excellence.
  • The Leader’s job is to create the vision and plan for how your organization will meet its mission priorities in the near and long term.

Use this moment for creativity and innovation, embracing the fact that returning to the prior normal will not lead to success or in some cases, survival.   Create a process that engages staff and leadership in thinking about the way forward and not just solutions to today’s problems.

  • Communicate a plan for the way forward, internally, and externally.

People who are overwhelmed with news about this Covid19 crisis will respond positively to leaders who communicate what they are doing to adapt to current challenges AND that they already have a process, a direction, and a plan for what will come next. They are anxious to hear that leaders are thinking about next steps and that there is a post-crisis plan.


In DRG’s organization consulting and talent advisory work throughout the sector, we can easily identify the differences between organizations led by people who are paying attention to these issues and keeping an eye on the future and those who are overwhelmed with the current challenges and hoping to find their way back to the way things were. This is a moment when courageous and thoughtful professional and volunteer leadership is the difference.


Contact us so we can help your organization plan for your “new normal”

About David Edell

Connect with him on LinkedIn 

or email him at dedell@drgsearch.com

[This article was originally published by David Edell in LinkedIn on 04/23/2020]