Moving Forward

With COVID-19 details changing daily, if not hourly, the information contained in these posts may not reflect the most recent developments.

For all of us, some days it can feel next to impossible to look beyond tomorrow. On those days, this is what I try to do: focus on the work in front of me, attend to my self-care and closest relationships. But as we begin to look up and out a bit, beyond tomorrow and beyond COVID, that’s the time to draw on our creative thinking and begin to imagine the possibilities. We don’t need to just push the reset or rewind button, we have the option to move forward.

You and your organization may not want to go back to what it was like in the “before times.” What was normal before may not be or may not need to be normal again. Consider the changes that you’ve made that you want to keep. Are there new opportunities that are possible now that weren’t possible before? Consider the new perspectives you’ve gained and the new relationships you’ve built.

Take your work arrangement, for example. It won’t be simple to reset your office to the way it was before you began working at home. As you consider a careful, phased-in re-opening of your offices, be sure to refer to local, state or provincial, and federal protocols to make sure you can keep all staff, volunteers, partners, and vendors safe, especially those who are the most vulnerable. Remember, it is not one-size-fits-all. Some staff may be anxious to get back into the office, and the organization may need to ask them to wait until they can come back safely. And other staff may be concerned about, or even resistant to, coming back. Everyone will need to be cautious and flexible and stay in active communication. Prioritize healthy well-being.

Before you move to re-open your offices, carefully consider any advantages of the work-at-home arrangements. Many organizations had some staff who worked remotely from home before or staff who occasionally worked at home. You may have found that once everyone started working at home, you found new ways to connect, and that might have increased your organization’s accessibility or inclusion in some ways. How can you apply what you’ve learned and keep and build upon the changes you’ve made? Maybe work-at-home continues to make sense for your organization or for more of your staff, and you may be able to save money on office space too.

As we hear about cities and towns opening up again, you may be tempted to reschedule events that you had planned, but before doing that, take the time to weigh the alternatives first. Look clear-eyed at the outcome of prior events. Even in the best of times, did the event meet your financial objectives, especially when you consider the staff time that went into the planning? The landscape post-pandemic (if we can even say that) will be different. Folks may be reticent to attend public events, and there will be a lot of rescheduled events vying for their attention. The economy may be suffering. So weigh your options. Maybe a new event or a virtual gathering would work better. Or perhaps you could replace an event with an online fundraising campaign. The context has changed since you planned the event originally. Be sure you’ve adapted your messaging and your approach to the new reality. TREC has some great resources on fundraising during COVID-19.

Many of you are looking to the possibility of reduced funding for the remainder of 2020, and into 2021. This will require you to refocus and reprioritize your work. Evaluate each of your programs or strategic initiatives and the associated funding. Create financial scenarios around the potential for changes in your funding streams. Then, as funding shifts, you can pull out prepared scenarios and put actions into place. See TREC’s video tutorial Planning for Uncertainty.

In these challenging times, you’ve likely made some adjustments to your approach or your program objectives. What did you learn from that that you can apply longer term? Can you make some shifts that will ensure that your program will be even more relevant and effective into the future? As you adapt and evolve your programs, make sure you consider how you will adapt the funding streams to make those new initiatives sustainable. Use new strategies and programs to bring in new sources of funding.

Instead of just updating a prior strategic plan, ask yourselves some bigger and more provocative questions. Devote time in Board and staff meetings for “blue sky” thinking. With so much in flux right now in the political and economic landscape, this may not be the best time to nail everything down, but it is a great time to ask yourself “what if” and “what else” questions.

Many of you have also formed deeper connections and partnerships in your community during these times. As you think about where you are headed, include strategies for expanding and deepening those relationships. One of the ways that many of you have connected to your communities is by supporting local COVID relief efforts. If your organization has supported a local or regional effort, let us know (email, and TREC will make an additional financial contribution to that effort. We’ll tell them your organization referred us.

Instead of a “return to normal,” let’s consider which changes we want to keep and what new opportunities await. With the new perspectives we’ve gained and the new relationships we’ve built, something new could be possible. What can you imagine?

Background Image: American Rivers | Scott Bosse

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