It is likely that the public health approach to lifting social distancing requirements will be a phased process. Yours should be too. Once you have done some soul searching into what type of organization you will be when you reemerge, it is time to plan. Here I will walk you through a gentle, transitional approach to easing back in as public health restrictions are lifted and COVID-19 cases consistently decline. As you plan, use our Planning Checklist and this Sample Plan.
Please note: these planning resources will apply to organizations differently. Nonprofits are operating at all different levels in the midst of COVID-19, so please take the pieces that are helpful to you.
Phase 1: Easing in gently, and with vigilance.
Your reentry into the “next normal” does not need to (and should not) occur at full speed or as a single event. No one knows how to safely come back from COVID-19, so we need to tread carefully and steadily with a well-thought-out plan. Think of your Phase 1 as dipping your organizational toes into the water and seeing how it feels. This transition should be gentle for you, your team, and the communities you serve. During Phase 1 (and Phase 2) you will need to be prepared to retreat back to an earlier phase if your community or organization experience an uptick in COVID-19 cases. You will need to be nimble.
It is impossible to predict how each federal, state, and local government will proceed, but it is unlikely that all social distancing requirements will be abruptly lifted overnight. Early recommendations have begun to surface, and a common trend is to call for an initial phase of lifting stay-at-home orders (for those not at high-risk of contracting COVID-19) but maintaining social distancing recommendations where possible.
Consider something similar for your organization. Are there positions who could continue working remotely with convenience and effectiveness? Do you have employees who are immunologically vulnerable for whom you could make accommodations? What does physical distancing look like for your programs and services? Is it possible?
If you have been providing services remotely, consider a Phase 1 in which you continue to lean heavily on remote services, but take gentle steps towards one-on-one in-person interactions with your community. If you provide group services, continue those remotely, if possible. In Phase 1, it is not yet time to convene groups of people in-person. For individual direct services, ease back into them if you can maintain physical distancing practices, with personal protective equipment (PPE).
Phase 1 fundraising efforts should connect to your organization’s needs around COVID-19. Educate your donors on the impact the pandemic is having/will have on your community. Share what you are doing and how donors can help.
There is no one right way to do this. You and your team will be the experts at carving out the roadmap that is right for you. Regardless of your path, make sure you aren’t doing this alone. Your board should be supporting your planning efforts and your team should be at the (virtual) table with you the whole way. Whatever your Phase 1 looks like, be sure to communicate it clearly to your board, your entire team of staff and volunteers, and your community. Letting your constituents and donors into your planning process is a great way to build trust and relationship with them.
Phase 2: Finding your groove and adapting as you go.
It is important to determine what will trigger your organization out of Phase 1 and into Phase 2. For some, it may be based on public health data. For example, you may decide to enter Phase 2 when COVID-19 cases have steadily declined in your area for X amount of consecutive days. If you wish to proceed more conservatively than public health guidelines, you may want to follow the lead of other trusted organizations and leaders in your community. You may develop a coalition or workgroup of community partners, participants, and leaders who will collectively trigger a change in phase. Or, you may decide to move into Phase 2 once your organization feels adept, comfortable and safe with implementing Phase 1 for a reliable amount of time.
If your goal is to eventually get your team back at the office, Phase 2 may be a good time to ease in. If you are worried about too many people in your office space due to desired physical distancing practices, consider creating a staggered schedule where employees alternate working in office and at-home so there are fewer people together at the office at once. Implement strict cleaning practices at the start, middle, and end of each day.
Assess how your community is responding to opportunities and offerings that are both remote and in-person. Are you seeing a trend in your community relaxing and feeling safe to emerge from home more frequently? Consider offering a blend of options for your community. Perhaps you continue to offer remote services for those who prefer them and begin offering services in person (with physical distancing and PPE in place) for those who wish to access them that way.
Phase 2 fundraising efforts should consist of sharing with your donors about how you are adapting and the stories coming from your community. Focus on the need in your community and how your organization is striving to meet it.
Phase 3: Back at it, with minimal risk of COVID-19 community spread.
I know it’s hard to imagine Phase 3. A time in which a vaccine is approved and available to all. Communities in which masks are not required and there are no distancing requirements. It will be awhile, but we will get there.
The Phase 3 transition may not feel natural. You will likely have to instruct your team on how to be “normal” again. Together, you will have to exercise your muscles around being in groups of people, making physical contact or being in proximity with other humans, and shedding your protective gear. People will be traumatized from the isolation, grief, hardship and loss caused by the coronavirus. You will need to lead with a trauma-informed approach.
Per public health recommendations, you will be able to resume services at whatever capacity you wish. You will finally be able to have group trainings and fundraising events. You will be able to sit in a room with a client or volunteer with very little risk of falling ill from COVID-19.
Hold your stories close. Document them so that those who come after you can learn from and be shaped by them. Share them with your donors and friends. Talk about the inequities that were uncovered or magnified in your community. Call out and fight for systemic change. Honor the losses and pain with truth. Celebrate the resilience with your words and actions. Host storytelling gatherings to highlight the resilience of your community and organization. Your survival is sacred.