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Updated: July 13, 2020 Experts Corner

Nonprofit leaders rise to COVID-19 challenge

Sondra Lintelmann Dellaripa

It is easy to envision the reopening of our country as a scene out of an apocalyptic movie.

There is a hill of smoldering rubble, smoke rising, a glowing orange hazed sunrise silhouetting a lineup of weary warriors, arms around each other, legs in a firm stance, facing the new day.

In this movie, the lineup would represent nonprofits.

Throughout the last four months, the sector has been at the forefront of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We at Harvest Development Group have been privileged to serve these nonprofit warriors, witnessing firsthand the delivery of critical services, in health care certainly, but also in other needs decimated by both a virus and a socio-economic abortion.

Nonprofits have truly been the saviors through it all.

But they have also been the victims of this demise, losing financial support, staffing and constituents — restrained from their true purpose, restricted from delivering on their mission, and relegated to operating from a “wait-and-see” position.

Operating as a “victimized savior” is untenable. Nonprofits are exhausted. But as the dust settles on Pandemic 1.0 and we navigate forward from our bunkers, the nonprofit industry must shake off its exhaustion and rise, re-igniting their engines of purpose and strategy.

As a sector that employs more than 10% of the national workforce and represents 5.5% of the national GDP, they are too big — and too important — to fail.

It is an industry highly attuned to functioning in disruption and uncertainty, which is what provided for the foundation of its endurance during the crisis. But they must not get stuck here. As a powerhouse in our country’s social, economic and political machine, they have an obligation to regain their agency and influence for good.

This will require stalwart leadership from organizational board members and CEOs, retreating and recalibrating their strategy toward a future-focused vision of purpose and production.

Many may find a mission shift in the center of their recalibration. Some may have discovered powerful affiliations, partnerships or a strength in merging. Whatever they discover, their decisions and actions will require courage and bold innovation.

We recently convened experts from across the nation to give direction and tools to nonprofits on rising to their reframed leadership. Six key imperatives were revealed:

1. Create a unified vision for the organization by assessing recent operations, risks and opportunities, defining what serves the nonprofits purpose and what must go.

2. Develop Logic Models for strategy and actions that meet the new vision.

3. Establish new funding models that fit the organization’s business strategy.

4. Define the new/renewed case for support and realign the communities focus to re-engage.

5. Leverage board and volunteer leadership to create and evolve market expansion opportunities for growth.

6. And finally, make no apologies and be forthright in asking for the financial support your organization needs.

As we look toward the future, our essential sector needs continuing inspiration, encouragement and support. Honoring their role in the pandemic and meeting their future value will require decisive and resolute leadership.

Sondra Lintelmann Dellaripa is president and principal consultant of Harvest Development Group in Middletown, a nonprofit consultant firm.

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