Maytree blog

Five good ideas about how your non-profit organization can respond to the COVID-19 pandemic

Published on 02/04/2020

To help us navigate a new way of working during the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re reaching out to experts in our network and asking them to share their five good ideas on issues that matter to non-profit professionals. We will share their responses in our new “Five Good Ideas: Home Office Series.” We begin the series with Thomas Appleyard, a seasoned management consultant with emergency management expertise.

Here are Thomas Appleyard’s five good ideas to help your non-profit organization respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

1. Comply with legislation
This pandemic is already a test of the processes that organizations have in place to comply with legislative requirements. Clarify the processes your organization uses for:

  • Occupational health & safety (especially the role of your health and safety committee or representative, work refusals / stoppages, and reporting occupational illnesses);
  • Requests for accommodations; and
  • Privacy protection and dealing with privacy breaches – especially if people are working from home for the first time.

The context has changed dramatically, but most of the rules have not. Organizational challenges are much easier to address if the policies and processes are established and well understood. Share your understanding of these processes with staff, unions, volunteers, and boards of directors before you have to run them.

2. Keep it simple
Our inboxes and Twitter feeds are rivers of information. Leadership in this context is about simplifying information so that people can address what is going on in front of them. Help discern signal from noise. What are the three things people really need to know? Repeat them often. Overcommunicate your most important messages. In this context, just because it’s been said doesn’t mean people heard it – and certainly doesn’t mean they understood.

3. Listen
Just listen. What is really happening today? What is your organization saying today? What is the community you serve saying today? What is surprising today and what could it mean? All of us have been wrong about so many things in the past month. What might you be wrong about next? Listen for what you might be wrong about. Listen for weak signals.

4. Scenario plan
Dedicate precious time to think through difficult scenarios. Flag your biggest concerns with your board, your management team, or your funders. Consult with other organizations on these scenarios. Nobody is alone in this. Mental preparation is an important component of readiness, even if the steps aren’t clear.

5. Create opportunities
The word emergency and emergence are essentially the same word. What will emerge from your organization? Some organizations find new ways to achieve their missions during emergencies. More importantly, in large emergencies, many organizations do things not because they are part of their mission, but because they have the capability, or because they become part of something bigger than themselves. Lead in surprising ways.

Related resource:

  • Dealing with an Influenza Pandemic (Thomas Appleyard’s Five Good Ideas session in September 2009): While this presentation talks about how to get prepared for an emergency, it is also an important resource on what to do once you are dealing with a situation such as COVID-19.

Thomas Appleyard is a seasoned management consultant with emergency management experience and a facilitator skilled in facilitating and fostering workplace participation and leadership.


[Five Good Ideas: Home Office Series] Thomas Appleyard starts our series by sharing his five good ideas on how to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.