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A not for profit response to COVID-19

27 April 2020 at 3:51 pm
Mike Davis
Mike Davis shares some of the key lessons his organisation has learned since being rocked by coronavirus.

Mike Davis | 27 April 2020 at 3:51 pm


A not for profit response to COVID-19
27 April 2020 at 3:51 pm

Mike Davis shares some of the key lessons his organisation has learned since being rocked by coronavirus.

COVID-19 is the black swan event that no one saw coming. As it has unfolded it has laid bare uncertainty, anxiety, disruption and panic. It has tested communities but also not-for-profit organisations in how they are able to support their staff, ensure business continuity, sustainability and most importantly to support our most vulnerable clients.

How we are able to respond in times of crisis is a measure of the resilience of an organisation, but also commitment to a shared purpose and a test of your ability to plan and execute on the run. 

TaskForce, like many community organisations, was rocked by COVID-19 and has been tested on a number of fronts throughout. 

Here are some key lessons learned along the way that served and continue to serve us well:

1. Update your policies 

Good governance and planning starts with having your back of house in order. This meant scanning our existing emergency and disaster management policies and business continuity plans and reviewing, researching and updating these as required. 

Ensuring that we had a clear and up-to-date disaster management policy, business continuity plan and a separate COVID-19 response plan enabled us to be on the front foot at the beginning of the pandemic spread. It also enabled us to communicate effectively with our board, staff and funders about COVID-19 and how we planned to manage it. This appeared to be effective as our recent COVID-19 Pulse Survey showed that 93 per cent of our staff reported being happy with communication from management. Critically, around what would remain open and still function and what services would be on hold as well as what alternative arrangements were to be put in place. Our business continuity plan includes establishing a disaster response team, composed of staff across our service areas. 

2. Engage your board

Boards play a vital role in disasters and provide much of the guidance, advice, direction and hard work required to steer a good community organisation. When there is a good relationship between an executive team and a board, the board will be briefed on the situation as soon as possible and will plan further action collaboratively with the executive team. 

At TaskForce we are fortunate to have a highly passionate, skilled and engaged board who was eager to help from the outset of COVID-19. It quickly moved to form a COVID-19 Pandemic Subcommittee including members of our executive team and board to support and work with our disaster response team. 

3. Collect lessons

COVID-19 has been a terrible situation for all. But it has given us an opportunity to reflect on our business as usual, how we operate in crisis situations and what we can learn and apply after this pandemic passes. It also gives us a unique window into the future of work and how technology can support remote working. 

Some of our staff have really enjoyed working from home and others have struggled with it. We have saved time in many areas of our work, but might have lost some of the human touch that makes it all worthwhile. We might be able to provide more services remotely, but how effective is our remote work compared to in-person work? 

Without question, one thing we all miss is the informal banter or water-cooler conversation, questions that can easily be solved by the nearby crowd, and the trips to get coffee together and workshop our problems. 

4. Connect as needed

How many Zooms is too many Zooms? At the beginning of COVID-19 we went with many regular Zooms and this helped to set our priorities, lift morale and collaboration. As COVID-19 progressed we thought this might be too many Zooms and starting to interfere with our workloads. We landed in the goldilocks zone of “don’t meet for no reason, but meet where it’s helpful to your work”! 

Our challenge is now to maintain regular Zooms with sector colleagues, our teams and partners whilst not overdoing it. Thinking about monthly or fortnightly meetings as a good alternative to weekly meetings. 

5. Understand staff needs

Our staff are split between corporate services, clinical and non-clinical staff. We are also lucky to have some wonderful trainees and volunteers supporting our work. One of the first steps to supporting our staff was to hold a number of Zoom consultations, privately and in service groups and then move to develop and implement a pulse survey to understand COVID-19 impact on staff, staff wellbeing, changes in workload needs and more. 

Staff wellbeing was above average at 3.5/5, but a majority of staff (56 per cent) said that their role had changed a lot or a great deal since the onset of COVID-19. Staff overwhelmingly felt supported by their managers during COVID-19 and felt that they had the tools required at home to do their job. 

A key learning for TaskForce has been noticing how much happier some staff are to avoid a lengthy commute to come to work and prefer the flexibility of working from home. 

COVID-19 is a once-in-a-lifetime event that thrust our sector into chaos but has also given us a rare opportunity to work on our business fundamentals including strategy, planning, policies and governance to ensure we can be even better when work as normal resumes. It has been helpful to think of this time as a time of review, reflection, consultation and improvement. 

“Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.” – Peter Drucker

Mike Davis  |  @mikedav84

Mike Davis is a for-purpose executive leader, chief podcaster at Humans of Purpose and a board director at not for profits SIMNA Ltd and L2R Dance.

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