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Top six tips for tackling COVID-19 from the nation’s best NFP thinkers

It’s all very well being told to “pivot” to help your organisation survive, but how do suggestions like that help when you’re not sure which way you’re facing?

Here’s some advice from the Community Directors Council brains trust about what community leaders need to do NOW.


1. Take care of your staff and volunteers

Community Directors Council chair Susan Pascoe recommends board directors check whether CEO and senior managers are coping, personally and professionally. Senior management should “be able to provide some assurances to fellow directors that this is the case,” she says.

Emeritus Professor Myles McGregor-Lowndes says this may also require “providing mentoring to senior management about managing in times of disturbance”, while Community Hubs chief Sonja Hood says directors should avoid contributing to staff burnout.

“I think there is a tendency in for-purpose organisations – particularly the ones right at the coalface – to want to solve more, to do more, and to respond more in a crisis,” Dr Hood says.

“The difference with this crisis is that it’s also impacting our staff as well as our communities, and sometimes the role of the board is to get people within the organisation to stop or slow down and look after themselves first.”

2. Keep an eye on finances and funding

Financial viability is among the top issues facing groups, and it’s worsened by the reduced capacity for fundraising – all members of the Community Directors Council agree on this point.

“Issues of viability and sustainability should be at the forefront, both for managing through the crisis and for the recovery phase,” says Susan Pascoe.

Health expert Anne Cross AM says amid the “cash drain” groups must closely monitor “viability, sustainability and solvency”, frequently revisiting their strategic and financial plans.

Philanthropic leader Jodi Kennedy, who helps fund not-for-profits via Equity Trustees grants, says those able to maintain or boost funding now are “the lucky ones” and a rapid repositioning of business models may be needed “to get through this challenging period”.

Legal and fundraising expert Catherine Brooks urges leaders to “know where funding comes from”. She says all leaders should be clear who are their key funders and what they support.

3. Stay attuned to good governance and decision making

Social enterprise expert Pablo Alfredo Gimenez says groups can overcome challenges by “adapting board processes to comply with governance obligations” by seeking out “the tools and tips and training to adapt to physical distancing requirements”. Such tools available from Our Community include the new Damn Good Advice on Creating a COVID-19-Safe Wokplace and Save Our Sector help sheets.

Renowned leadership mentor Sheena Boughen says being open to new ideas can start with asking simple, strategic questions, such as “What’s going well on the ship? How do we know?” or “Who else could give us some insight into how we are going?” And she urges leaders to seek out the wise and to ask them, “Who do you learn from and are you in touch with them?”

Susan Pascoe agrees, and she says good information flow is crucial. “Most NFP directors will need more frequent and detailed reporting from management to be confident that their enterprises are coping with this unprecedented situation, especially those such as health and welfare delivering frontline services,” she says.

4. Keep your stakeholders close

Council members agree that maintaining good relationships with supporters and stakeholders is a key survival tactic, especially where volunteer help is compromised.

“Now is the time for collaboration in the sector, so let’s use the power of social media, appropriate language and good communication methods to reach those in need,” says Catherine Brooks.

Skilled volunteers – possibly online – will still be able to help, says Ms Brooks, who also suggests alerting funders to your group’s needs.

Indigenous enterprise leader Jahna Cedar urges groups to be “innovative in their consultation with members”, especially as AGMs loom.

Sheena Boughen cites the example of the Sydney Theatre Company, which put its actors to work thanking key donors during the pandemic, to keep backers feeling “connected and valued”.

5. Do things differently

Now is the time to do things differently; or, as Myles McGregor-Lowndes puts, it “scan for opportunities in times of disturbance”. Pablo Alfredo Gimenez echoes the need to look for “opportunities to explore new ways of working and taking advantage of the disruption”.

Sonja Hood says adjusting services must start with good tech, while Jahna Cedar suggests re-examining strategic plans. Sheena Boughen encourages leaders to start with asking: “What else?”

Jodi Kennedy says not-for-profit leaders must combine “agility, innovative thinking, collaboration, and leveraging networks”. She says not-for-profits able to “engage the beneficiaries of their services, seek feedback and come up with new ways to tackle their social challenge” – drawing on government and philanthropic support, and their own expertise – will “stand the best chance of being able to navigate this period”.

6. Learn from disaster

Groups most capable of understanding the current situation will be better placed to survive, council members agree.

Anne Cross says in the shakeup of their operations, groups should consider “what should be retained into the future, whatever that looks like”. Jahna Cedar says this might require “re-examining strategic plans to consider the implications of the pandemic, including potentially changing the direction of your not-for-profit”. And Sonja Hood believes the pandemic will teach groups about the “capability and possibility” of not-for-profit organisations.


If you’re after more lessons, you can read the full version of this help sheet on the Save Our Sector website.


The 11-member Community Directors Council, led by the former chief of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, Adj Prof Susan Pascoe AM, advises Our Community’s Institute of Community Directors Australia (ICDA) on strategy, policy, training, regulation and the kinds of resources Our Community is producing for the Save Our Sector campaign.


Article Published by Our Community Wednesday 26th August 2020 10:31