The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to impact the lives of millions of Canadians and millions more around the world. Many nonprofits and their boards are facing difficult questions and decisions. As matters rapidly evolve, boards needs to provide steady and flexible leadership in partnership with and in support of the CEO and organization in the areas of strategy, communication, finances, and human resources.
Amongst its many responsibilities, boards must actively participate in an overall planning process for an organization and support the implementation and monitoring of the plan’s goals. While the CEO is responsible executing these plans, the board should be reviewing and responding to the organization’s strategy, and providing feedback. It is crucial that the board and CEO consider the impact of COVID-19 on the organization. As the board reviews plans, it should consider:
- How does COVID-19 impact the organization’s operations?
- What mitigation planning is in place?
- Is additional expertise required to manage any potential impact?
A variety of perspectives should be considered in developing a response including from a human resources specialist, a financial officer, and a lawyer. A response should be guided by the board but implemented by the CEO. As stewards of the organization, the board must be sensitive to the existence of risk, set the tone for dealing with it, and ensure that proper processes and tools are in place to keep the organization safe and ready to act if a situation demands it.
As organizations try to plan for the future, the board, in partnership with the CEO, should be continuously monitoring the situation and assessing any potential risks that might arise as the COVID-19 issue evolves. These are challenging times, and it is important for the board and staff to come together and develop a plan that will help the organization survive. A crisis response plan might include a strategy to communicate with stakeholders, staff and the public and logistics for convening meetings.
Boards must be cognizant to impacts to the organization’s finances or investments. COVID-19’s impact on the economy remains uncertain, and the board and CEO must think about the organization’s ability to secure future grants or donations, what resources are required to adapt to recommendations for social distancing, and how cancelled programs or fundraisers will influence the budget. This conversation should consider the short-term and long -term viability of the organization’s assets and whether the organization should run a deficit.
Every organization should have a plan in place if someone in the organization or a stakeholder accessing the organization’s services is diagnosed with COVID-19. The board should be updated on any decisions or policies made such as cancelling events or services or directing staff to work at home. As leaders, it is the role of the CEO and board to make sure that staff, stakeholders, and volunteers know how to protect themselves and the community.
The CEO and board may face a difficult decision in relation to maintaining levels of staffing during the crisis. AN understanding of the organization’s legal obligations to staff is critical in assessing whether changes are required.
Crisis response and communication planning is never done. Once a communication plan has been established, it is the board’s role to continue to support the CEO and organization. This means maintaining communication that is consistent with the organization’s response and supporting the CEO to manage the organization’s finances, relationship with stakeholders and staff.
For more information, please contact:
Jennifer D. Pereira, QC