It appears that in just a few weeks many of our nonprofit staff and board members will have received the COVID-19 vaccine, ushering in a new set of challenges and changes.
Here is an important piece of background information to consider.
On Dec. 16, 2020, employers across the US got the green light they had been waiting for from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC affirmed that businesses and employers may require employees to receive a vaccination as a condition of continued employment and can require proof of COVID-19 vaccination.
Employees who refuse to be vaccinated can be banned from the workplace.
However, what makes this a daunting challenge for employers is the continuing skepticism about the vaccine, and research that suggests almost 40 percent of Americans will probably not or definitely not get the vaccine.
What will your nonprofit’s approach to this ticklish but real dilemma be?
I’ve been reading several high-level articles about this upcoming predicament and I want to share two pieces that impressed me and may be helpful for your preparations for reopening.
The first item I want to share is from SmartBrief, a newsletter that you may already been reading on a regular basis. Hinda Mitchell has written an excellent article called, Talking vaccines: The new communications hurdle for employers.
In it she addresses the question of how can employers lead their teams through this new conversation? She advises that smart communications will strike the balance between education and data with empathy and values. Mitchell offers the following recommendations to position your organization for success.
- Provide a clear explanation of company expectations. If the vaccine will be required as a condition of employment, share that information with clarity and transparency. Describe any protocols the company will have in place and what is expected of employees in terms of timing and documentation.
- Remember employees are people, too. Remember that opinions of the organization’s employee base likely reflect the general national breakdown of attitudes about the vaccine. That means about half of a company’s team are skeptical about the vaccine and may not intend to be vaccinated. Going in with a “vaccinate or else” message is sure to fail, while a well-crafted set of messages will build a favorable climate for future vaccination requirements.
- Provide clarity around company plans.Work with company HR leaders to fully define plans for employee vaccination. Will the company provide onsite vaccination? Must employees bring in proof of vaccination? Is there a grace period for when employees must have the vaccination completed?
- Reinforce relevant CDC and public health recommendations about the vaccine. Provide vaccine resources for employees from recognized public health experts. Make information accessible and easy to understand. Make sure it is translated in all necessary languages.
- Leverage company values. Vaccine communications should lean into the values of the nonprofit’s mission. Assure employees vaccine requirements reflect a commitment to the care and well-being of employees and clients. Remind the team that protecting health and safety matters for their welfare, for operational continuity and for prevention of virus spread in the community.
- Be patient. Other than frontline health care workers and other high-risk populations, most employees will not have access to the vaccine for some time. Give employees time to get comfortable with the vaccine and to see its early successes. Slow and steady will win this race.
The next few months provide a valuable opportunity to lay the groundwork within an organization to communicate effectively about anticipated vaccination policies. Ultimately, nonprofits should begin communications with the end in mind — a safe, healthy and vaccinated workforce.
Guidance from nonprofit professionals may be helpful for your organization.
The second article I found on the website of the Council of Nonprofits. They point out that according to The Washington Post, “The twin crises of pandemic and recession are straining the region’s philanthropies and could force as many as a third of nonprofits to close or merge before the economy recovers.”
In the words of Stanley Litow, a professor at Duke and Columbia Universities, “No sector of the economy is more vital to achieving equality and social justice, or more deserving of support, than nonprofit agencies that are directly responsible for ensuring the social safety net doesn’t completely shred.”
The Council of Nonprofits website highlights Mario Morino’s article, The Big Reset: Guidance for Nonprofits, as highlighted on the site Leap of Reason. Morino suggests the following strategies for nonprofits to follow to prepare for our new reality. He provides links to many helpful resources you may enjoy.
- Face the Brutal Realities. Recognize what we’re facing is very real and will be with us for some time. It’s important for you and your team to come to grips with the fact that the damage around your organization may get worse. Drive this point home with your board and senior team. Make it clear to your staff as well, asking them to be part of the solution.
Ask the hardest questions of all: Is our organization still essential? If our community has to decide which nonprofits are essential, how does ours fare? If we have to cut back, what programs and services must continue? SeaChange’s publication Tough Times Call for Tough Action offers an excellent framework for exploring these issues.
- Elevate Purpose to Give Hope. Given our concurrent crises, it’s easy to fall prey to gloom and doom. Help your organization see a sliver of light. Revisit your purpose—the mission you’ve dedicated your life to advancing. Remind your troops that you’re in this together and how important their work is at this moment. You’ll see an outstanding example in this CBS News profile, in which Montefiore Hospital’s healthcare workers say that being on the frontlines during a health emergency is their calling and saving lives is their reward. How can you come together around this same connection to purpose in your work? And how can you best maintain your organizational culture and develop people at a time when you probably have much less in-person interaction than usual?
- Rally Your Board, Management, and Staff. Remember, you can’t overcommunicate. Most of all, be upfront, honest, and transparent. It’s at tense times like these when people are most attuned to their leaders’ words and actions. If you aren’t forthright, they’ll see right through you. If you’re panicked, you’ll send everyone scurrying away with concern. If you’re calm and respectfully direct, they’ll listen and won’t be unnecessarily rattled. If you’re making cuts to costs and personnel, lead by example. As soon as you can, be specific on the status of jobs, compensation, etc. Make sure the most valuable members of the board, management and key staff are onboard with you. At some point, you may have to lock in your core team, and depart from those who aren’t buying-in. This long, difficult journey will be less painful and more doable if your key players are all rowing in the same direction.
- Focus on the ‘Here and Now.’ In the midst of these intersecting crises, focus on the ‘here and now.’ Move as quickly as possible—and don’t make the perfect of the enemy of the good!—to maximize the chance that your organization can survive and come out reasonably whole. Hopefully you have made sure you have the unrestricted cash to keep the doors open for at least three to six months. Once this short-term runway is assured, think through how your organization will manage through the subsequent year. The uncertainty of this moment suggests that you should take steps to make your organization nimbler, quicker, leaner, more adaptive, more resilient, and of course, sustainable.
To give you a relatively quick way to prioritize the risks to your organization, we’ve built this basic triage tool specifically for nonprofits, borrowing concepts that healthcare organizations typically use in medical triage. You can download and tailor to reflect your critical issues.
- ‘Show Me the Money.’ No one has to remind nonprofit leaders and their boards of funding’s preeminent role. Quickly and smartly check in with each of your primary funding sources to make sure your relationships are secure and their commitments are still solid.
- Map Out a Bluntly Realistic Cash-Flow Projection. Update your cash-flow projections frequently and, whenever you can, refine them.
- Do Plan—Just Focus Hard on the Next 12-18 months. We could be well into 2021 before the vaccine is available for broad distribution. So focus your plans on this critical near-term period, and put aside the three- and five-year plans. With all the uncertainties we face right now, long-term plans aren’t worth the digital bits in which they’re encoded. Your focus should be on rapid learning and adaptation.
- Ask the Critical Questions. As organizations assess and respond to the obvious financial hits and changes in the demand for service, every organization will have to face new questions such as: What else do you need to do to address COVID-19? What has the pandemic taught us? What other changes do you need to make to your physical facilities? What else do you need to do to reduce the risks for those you serve and your staff? Cleveland Clinic offers helpful guidesfor general industries, educators, faith leaders, healthcare providers, hotels, manufacturers, retailers, and restaurants.
You may also want to engage in scenario planning to augment your core planning processes and provide ways to think about plans for contingencies that may arise over the next 12-18 months. I’d start with Monitor Institute’s COVID-19 scenario planning for nonprofit and philanthropic organizations and The Bridgespan Group’s Making Sense of Uncertainty: Nonprofit Scenario Planning During a Crisis.
- Consider Restructuring or Consolidating. Although this is a hot-button topic, I encourage all financially struggling nonprofits to take a good look at the range of programs and services they offer and consider scaling back to the most essential and/or those achieving the best results. Likewise, considering consolidation of office or work sites may make sense in response to changes in programs and services, increased virtual work and outreach, or the cost of implementing COVID-19 protections. If time allows, do a gap analysis on your programs and services to see how you might reduce overlap, make programs more effective and improve case management.
We highly recommend the Lodestar Foundation and its great examples of collaborations, including groups that have received its Exceptional Grants.
- Imagine the Unthinkable. Zoom your team together to review your backup plans in case one of you came down with COVID-19. Be sure to consider what you would do if two team members got seriously sick at the same time. Consider changing some of your processes, simplifying certain actions, adding authorizations for check signing and funds transfer and build in new checks and balances. What are your unthinkables? And how well prepared are you if they become your reality?
As with any challenging situation, communication (in fact over-communication) is more important than ever. Be sure to interact regularly with your staff, your board, your donors, your supporters and the entire community.