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Making the Most of It

March 24, 2020


It calms me to know that, as turbulent as this month has been, some things remain constant. Spring has come again. Streams keep flowing downstream. Nonprofits keep stretching their resources to do as much good as they can possibly do.

But ultimately, nonprofits can do only what they have the budget to do, and the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown many funding sources into question. So today’s main topic is budgeting during a crisis. There are no magic solutions. But clear-eyed contingency planning can help you navigate the coming days with a better “map.”

Read on for suggestions you may find useful. (As usual, we also have a daily self-care tip.)

Today’s featured topic: Budgeting in a Crisis

We recommend an online article by the Bridgespan Group, Eight Steps for Managing through Tough Times, for wide-ranging advice that can help you with not only budgeting but with related factors such as engaging your board and communicating your plans. The article was updated last September so does not directly address COVID-19. Nonetheless, its advice is relevant to today’s extreme circumstances.

Here are four of the main points relevant to budgeting (again, we recommend the full article for details):

  1. Act quickly, but not reflexively, and plan contingencies. Always plan for the worst, recognizing that troubles may unfold in fits and starts. Having Plans B, C, and D in place and knowing when to move to each can mean the difference between pacing your organization through a marathon and a slippery slide into financial and organizational exhaustion.
  2. Protect the core. Now is the time to allocate your unrestricted funding and critical talent to the programs and services that have the greatest impact on those you serve. It is also the time to consider whether you need to cut back or discontinue less critical activities – and to ask yourself, “If not now, when?”
  3. Identify the people who matter most and keep that group strong. Note that decisions about who “matters most” must be viewed through a diversity, equity, and inclusion lens, to ensure that a variety of identities and viewpoints infuse your organization’s vision and work.
  4. Stay very close to your key funders. The individual donors and organizations that know you best are the ones that are most likely to help you navigate a downturn. Remember that you don’t have to wait for your key funders to call you. You can – and should – use this as an opportunity to pick up the phone and call them. … It’s also worth taking the time to analyze your sources of revenue and to categorize each according to whether it is “in the bank,” committed, fairly certain, or at risk. Such analysis will allow you to think through more nuanced financial scenarios over the coming year.

Other recently published resources to consider:

COVID-19 CEO Roundtables: We just hosted our first virtual CEO Roundtable this morning. These free roundtables, open to both CNPE members and non-members, let nonprofit CEOs and Executive Directors come together with peers to learn from local subject-matter experts how to navigate during the coronavirus outbreak.

  • Our first information-packed webinar addressed COVID-19: HR and Legal Perspective for Nonprofits. If you could not attend, we will supply a link to the recorded version later this week (tomorrow, we hope).
  • Our next roundtable, Communicating in a Crisis: Lessons for COVID-19, will be this Friday, March 27, at 9 AM. Sign up here.

Future topics will include Budgeting, Fundraising, and Self-Care. Watch this space for details in the coming days.

Action Alert! Help Self-Insuring Nonprofits Survive the Massive Increase in Unemployment Benefit Filings: Many nonprofits self-insure unemployment benefits, under which they must reimburse the state dollar for dollar when a laid-off employee files for benefits. This is a sensible, cost-saving approach for the nonprofit and is intended for the individual instances when employees separate from service.

But we are in a situation unlike any we have known, and many nonprofits that self-insure these benefits will go under if they do not receive help from the federal government. Go to the ACCSES Action Center and tell Congress to add funding for states to offset dollars owed by nonprofits or direct reimbursement to nonprofits for the employer piece of self-insured unemployment benefits to the next stimulus bill. It is vital to the ability of many nonprofit organizations to continue. (The ACCSES site lets you complete a form to mail your members of Congress quickly.)

Don’t forget “The List”: The CNPE team continues to curate links to resources that you can use on our COVID-19 Nonprofit Resources List. Keep checking back, because we are adding to it as our environment changes and new resources come on line. If we haven’t covered a topic of interest to you – or if you know of a helpful resource we should add – tell us.

Icon indicating breathing in and outThe CNPE Self-Care Tip of the Day: Breathe! With so much news to process, we sometimes forget to breathe deeply. Yogis have been working on this for millennia, and have some proven ways to lower your anxiety through simple breathing techniques that anyone can do. Here are eight techniques to try. You may be surprised at how helpful they are.

Hang in there. Financial uncertainty can be exhausting. We’re here to help you through this uncertain time.

My best,
Ann's signature
Ann L. Coffey, CEO

The CNPE office is closed temporarily to help ensure everyone’s health. Our staff will be working remotely, though, and remain available to help members. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. CNPE Staff Contacts

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