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Nonprofit Lessons "Eclipsed"

Nonprofits are not unlike those communities preparing for the upcoming solar eclipse. There are lessons to be learned and steps to be taken that can insulate an organization from an uncertain future. They include priorities around an organization's strategic planning, crisis communication, and volunteer management.

The eclipse is a "once-in-a-lifetime" event for most of those in its path. So, it has been interesting to see how some communities have acted well in advance to get activities and plans in order. Others were late to the table, and it shows.

We see the same in the nonprofit world and the clients with whom we consult. Some deeply appreciate the future ahead and seek to create their future rather than react to it. Others are in crisis mode and scrambling to deal with their realities. Where does your organization fall?

When authoring the book "Build Nonprofit Castle" I tried to highlight eight key aspects of a nonprofit that represented capabilities they already had, but just needed to cultivate. They were “tools, buried in the sands of the organization.” These action-oriented keys were intended to harbor them from the waves of the future. Now, the book has evolved into a workshop, and expanded to “10 steps to navigate future waves.”

The waves of change are constant, and the ability to navigate waves sets apart organizations with strong outcomes. We consistently carry the message that planning, communication, governance, and management, (among others) are always instrumental in determining an organization’s success.

Ironically, the communities in the eclipse path have more predictable variables. They know the date, time, path, and length of darkness.  They don’t know what the weather may be, how many visitors to expect, and what the traffic may look like leading up to and following the event. Still, they are taking actions to prepare, communicate, and execute plans that should position them in the best possible light. No pun intended. They are communicating those plans and recruiting volunteers to help in many instances.

Nonprofits have a different kind of darkness to navigate, yet strategic planning can provide a light that allows them to allocate resources effectively; It can also identify not only where they want to go but establish a timeline and who is responsible for the steps to get them there.  

Nonprofits also need a foolproof crisis communication plan. Crisis communication ensures timely and transparent messaging during emergencies. Regular communication plans take a back seat to crisis-specific strategies when emergencies strike. Transparent communication is essential during crises. Leaders must keep stakeholders informed about developments, challenges, and solutions. Therefore, the creation of such a plan needs to be prioritized now to enable a professional response to what could happen tomorrow.

Finally, volunteers are part of what we like to call an “adaptive staffing initiative.” These valued “employees” help organizations accomplish tasks while conserving the resources of the organization. It’s important to keep them informed, let them know they are appreciated, and recognize them for their efforts.

By proactively addressing these key areas, nonprofits can better serve their constituents and weather challenges effectively. The communities in the path of the eclipse are providing some positive examples and lessons to be learned.

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