For many Christian non-profit organizations and their leaders, including board chairs and board members, the last ten months of pandemic-disrupted operations have generated and continue to generate incredible challenges. Traditional methods of fund-raising can no longer be counted upon to help alleviate cash-flow constraints or achieve the annual budgeted targets. Measuring the work performance of employees who work at home has become almost impossible. Leaders are so busy putting out fires and trying to adapt to health regulations (that seem to change every two weeks) that they have little energy or motivation to think about the organization’s future. For some non-profit groups in Canada, government funding has supported existing operations and postponed the need to lay-off staff, but who knows whether this will continue over the next few months. In the midst of this, the phrase “post-pandemic” appears to be a receding possibility, even with the promise of vaccines.
And yet it is timely, necessary, if not essential to the health of your organization, that the board members, and especially their chairperson, consider what’s next. Undoubtedly the pandemic has and will necessitate even more change and adaptation for your organization as society begins to experience a “new normal.” You can use these next few months, perhaps the darkest months of this crisis, to help your organization reimagine its future. Your CEO probably already is assessing and evaluating options. However, a key question to consider before you plunge into this process would be this — what role should the board of your non-profit have in this re-visioning process?
Within the Carver Model of board operations, the board defines key policies, particularly the key results that will advance the organization’s mission, and then tasks the CEO to devise plans to achieve those key results. However, the pandemic for the most part has de-railed every non-profit CEO’s plans. The board probably has not adjusted the key results it set at the beginning of 2020, prior to the pandemic. So when it comes to performance review, it will be very difficult for a CEO to demonstrate the degree to which the strategic plans, previously proposed in response to the 2020 key results, have in fact advanced the mission. In addition, given the effects of the pandemic, the CEO cannot merely take the same set of plans defined in January 2020 and expect to implement them in 2021 as if nothing has happened in the meantime. The disruptions to society, the congregation, and the work-place have been too massive.
So the board and its chair will need to do some work to review the board’s policy that defines the key results that the board desires the organization to achieve in the next twelve months, as your organization seeks to move beyond the pandemic’s havoc. This is a responsibility that the board has to take, even as it welcomes input from the CEO. Until the board has completed this review, it is not possible for the CEO to bring a new vision to the board for its consideration and funding.
What issues might a non-profit board consider as it reviews and probably revises its key results going forward?
- The nature of the work-place might be one. Probably all of the employees in your non-profit have had to work from their homes during the past six months. Some staff have flourished in this new work environment and others, unfortunately, have not. Your organization has probably purchased the necessary technical support to continue operating in this dispersed manner, should you choose to do so. The use of Zoom or Microsoft Teams or some other interactive software has made this work reasonably well. However, what will the workplace for your non-profit look like, going forward? How do you want to re-tune your workplace culture? Your board has an opportunity to work with the CEO to redesign your workplace environment. What factors should guide your collective thinking in this regard? This might even require some re-working of position descriptions.
- What new ways of serving your clients, developed in the last six months, should continue? What services that your non-profit traditionally has supported, but which have experienced disruption, should be re-started? If you have had to stop some programs, now is a good time to review which ones should continue.
- How will your responses to these first two questions lead you to consider re-shaping your staff resources in order to re-launch your non-profit’s services? For example, the preparation of online church services has required congregations to bring into their context new technical skills, as well as purchase new video and computer technology. How will you use these new resources going forward? Will you continue to produce an online service and if so does this give your congregation an opportunity to extend the geographical reach of your ministry? What new missions opportunities does this create? What new uses for your facilities will be required as you consider new ways to achieve your results?
- As a result of the pandemic, has your congregation grown, declined, remained static — or perhaps you just do not know. If you have experienced growth, what are the reasons and how will you continue to push these growth edges in a post-pandemic environment? If your congregation has declined, how will you regain momentum and energize people to support your mission?
As vaccination programs in our societies gather momentum and hopefully allow us to live, work, and relate in ways no longer constrained by the pandemic, more change and adaptation will be necessary. The “new normal” will be different and somewhat disruptive, so it is time to prepare your board and your organization for what is coming, as best you can.