(March 18, 2020) Our world seemingly shifted on its axis last week as it became clear that the novel coronavirus—COVID-19—had burst through the borders of Northern China, though Asia, Western Europe and across the ocean to North America.
Charities are caught in the middle of the pandemic squeeze and will be, over the next days and weeks, making decisions about how to best protect their staff and their clients.
Some charities have had local authorities make decisions for them.
In Toronto, public schools, day cares, libraries and community centres are closed until April 5th. Universities have closed and are moving to online classes until April 5th. Arts institutions such as the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Royal Ontario Museum, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra will not be open or performing until April 5th.
Throughout Quebec, all schools, universities, daycares and CEGEPs in Quebec will be closed for two weeks starting Monday, March 16th until Tuesday, March 31st.
Vulnerable people have been asked to stay home. We’ve all been asked not to leave the country. Everyone out of the country has been asked to come home. A full societal response is required. Public health authorities can tell us what we need to do. But they cannot do it for us.
No one is unaffected by the shutting down of the town square, the places people gather, where we find our employment, health, and recreational resources as well as each other’s company. The world has never seen anything like what we are now experiencing as governments try to “flatten the pandemic curve” or stretch out the number of infections over a longer period of time so existing health services can manage “surge capacity.” This is the new language of these extraordinary times.
Every charity not already directed by local authorities is in much the same positions as their private sector counterparts.
The Winnipeg Foundation, the second largest community foundation in Canada, issued a statement,
Given our responsibilities to our employees, Board members and their families, effective March 16, 2020, we are implementing a social distancing strategy, reinforcing robust hygiene practices at work, eliminating in-person business meetings and travel; and incorporating remote working procedures in a rotational schedule. This will be monitored and adapted, as may be required."
The Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) issued a statement on March 13, 2020, that includes limiting some fundraising activities and re-enforcing its online support,
In order to put the well-being and safety of people affected by cancer, our clients, event participants, supporters, volunteers and staff first, we are pausing some fundraising activities until after the crisis has passed. This includes postponing our traditional, offline Daffodil campaign involving residential canvassing, flower sales, pin sales, galas and other in-person events.
If you are looking for support, our toll-free helpline and online peer support community are playing an important role now in helping people with cancer and their caregivers better manage cancer, find community and connection and build wellness and resilience in the comfort of their homes."
After talking to charity experts, reviewing some of the recent literature from public health authorities, and management specialists such as the Harvard Business Review and Kinsey, The Charity Report is offering ten charity-specific tips for decision makers in charities.
- The main emphasis is and should be on containing and mitigating the disease itself.
- Inform yourself often from authoritative sources.
- Communicate with your staff, volunteers and clients clearly and often. The statement issued by The Winnipeg Foundation is a good example. You don’t have to know everything in this moment. Plan out for the next two to three weeks and update when you know more or change direction.
- Schedule a conference call with your Board of Directors to review your provisional plan. Have a separate meeting with the board chair prior to the meeting so she can lead the discussion. Make sure they understand the need for one and anticipate objections.
- Stay close to the people you serve. Look for creative ways of continuing to communicate with them. Charities serving at-risk youth populations might take the lead of universities who are cancelling their in-person classes, yet are remaining connected to their students through emails, video, Instagram posts and other forms of social media. Charities operating shelters will likely be guided by the direction of local authorities.
- Issue updates, by email and social media. If you haven’t posted on Facebook for a million years, it’s time to dust it off and use it. For clients who don’t use social media, connect with them by phone and send something to them via snail mail (not a fundraising letter). Canada Post will continue to work, so getting back to snail mail might help your clients continue to feel connected. Calling senior clients daily will help you understand their needs and help meet them. Make sure you’ve got all their contact details.
- Use social distancing at work and plan a work-from-home strategy on a rotating basis. Outline expectations during this temporary period. Employees should able to be responsive to queries. Cell numbers can go into email signatures. Make sure all employees have access to a computer server or have a means to access the files they need. Consult with your IT specialist.
- Talk less about COVID-19 and more about the needs of your clients. Charities do some of the most important work in the country. The need for that work continues. Constant water cooler chit-chat and speculation (even if people are not at the water cooler) is not helpful. Communicating relevant information is vital. Gossip can be paralyzing. The need for the work remains as does the necessity of not spreading infection.
- Make sure your organization has the liquidity to keep paying your expenses and the salaries of employees. If that requires going into reserves, we can officially call this a Rainy Day.
- Think seriously before you issue fundraising appeals in the midst of a pandemic to make up for that gala you had to cancel. People are freaked out about how to manage their own situation right now. It may not be wise to add to that burden. Instead, use the time to develop a fundraising plan when all this is over, and use the time now to send out a card to say thanks and hi, and to maintain a human connection.
“The virus cannot move without our help,” says CBC medical expert Dr. Peter Lin. “Don’t worry about national borders, think of your own personal borders.”