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Resiliency now! Planning for the Next Normal

(Image: Gregory Hayes)

As we enter the second month of the national COVID-19 emergency, I’d like to offer some words of wisdom for what I see as vital next steps. In short: This is the time to make resiliency planning your priority. 

Resiliency is the most important concept for nonprofits to understand and achieve over the next 24 months. Replacing our drive for “sustainability,” resiliency is the ability to absorb a shock and come out better on the other side. The goal is not simply survival, but endurance – through the immediate COVID-19 crisis and the recession that’s guaranteed to follow. 

So how do you get resilient? By building an adaptable organization, able to react quickly and effectively to changing circumstances by recalibrating programs, staff, culture, and strategy to ensure continued relevance, funding, impact, and viability.

Resiliency is the ability to absorb a shock and come out better on the other side.

As a long-time strategic planning consultant, I have extensive experience helping nonprofits achieve resiliency in a crisis; in fact, I spent the last recession assisting 34 organizations make it through to the other side. The perspective and tools I amassed through this work are fully transferable to this new crisis, in which the fundamental task before each of us, as I see it, is crafting a resiliency plan. That means thinking differently about strategy, in terms of the present-day emergency and what economists are calling the “Next Normal” – the conditions that lay ahead of us. 

Moving forward, nonprofits have three strategic options to consider, which I call “reemerge,” “reorganize,” and “restructure.” Though different, all three options call for board and leadership teams to be laser-focused on the mission, realistic regarding funding and revenue, and sensitive to the needs of the community.

Regardless of where you stand, every nonprofit organization has to ask these fundamental questions: How can our organization absorb the shock and come out viable on the other side? What is our plan to achieve greater resiliency? Which of the three resiliency plan strategies applies to us, and what does “reemerge,” “reorganize,” or “restructure” mean in our circumstances? 

Just as state governors are debating how best to reopen communities and creating plans for action, you must plan and prepare for your organization’s next normal understanding that change will be constant for the next couple of years.  

The GCN Nonprofit Consulting Group has already led a number of scenario planning webinars (available for replay here), providing tools and best practices for your immediate response planning. Watch for resiliency-focused tools and worksheets, available by early May, and be sure to take advantage of our upcoming May webinar on resilience (details to come). We also plan to hold a CEO forum, host an NU class, and start small-group consulting projects to help navigate this planning.

As always, please reach out to the Consulting Group with your questions about how to do resiliency planning and how to plan for the future. We’re here to help you succeed.

Kathy Keeley is GCN’s executive vice president of programs and a senior consultant for the GCN Nonprofit Consulting Group.

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