A Nonprofit's Journey Through the Covid-19 Crisis and Beyond: An Opportunity for Self-Evaluation and Innovation

How Leadership in a Sector Long Considering Transformation Can Take Hold and Guide

With more than 1,500 US-based nonprofit organizations contributing immensely to societal causes, the influence of their leaders has never been more important. For the last decade, stakeholders have quietly talked about the need for transformation – strategic visioning, improved operational efficiency, proactive human capital management, and accountability. Will the current COVID-19 and economic crises motivate universities, hospitals, museums, and other nonprofits to welcome leaders with a range of sector experience to inspire change and potential transformation, and/or will it rely on those from within its ranks to minimize risk and provide stability? Let’s explore the topic.

Among a myriad of challenges, there are at least two critical questions for nonprofit Boards and executive teams to consider:

to guide us through and beyond
this crisis to survive and best serve
our stakeholders?

lessons learned during the crisis
to potentially transform our vision
and operations to better serve
societal needs?

Victoria Slivkoff, Global Head of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, University of California System, offers that leaders are not born but are shaped by experiences. “In a time of crisis, a leader possesses the ability to inspire people and help others triumph over adversity. Have a plan, anticipate needs, and be a resource for the team. A true leader identifies what’s urgent versus not and how to best to leverage partnerships to get things done. Within the UC System, we invest in succession planning and leadership development and are benefitting from the investments made. We are able to refine our strategies and operations through a wealth of talent.”

Tanya Loh is an innovation consult on sabbatical from Microsoft, where she has served as Head of Ecosystem for M12, Microsoft’s venture fund. She notes that all organizations will undergo a natural examination and retrenching of their operations, revisiting how to best harness and apply their talent and resources to achieve revised goals and priorities. “As history has shown, moments of crisis are often when leaders emerge to provide direction when others cannot. COVID-19 is a profound example of this; the pandemic’s daily and ongoing toll has already surfaced new leaders with skills and abilities that differ from those who preside during times of abundance. It’s up to each executive team to take another hard look at their organization’s core values and identify and address critical leadership gaps to shore up their operations, promote innovation, and improve overall resilience.”

For many nonprofits, this is a time to review their strategic plans and consider a range of leadership profiles to execute and guide its future. Whether from the nonprofit, government, and/or private sector, a CEO will need to build a refined and compelling strategic vision and case for support. A diversity of professional experiences will enrich their perspective to make the most informed decisions. “Big ideas” will be important to motivate others to follow, and relentless communications and oversight of messaging are critical skills and traits, whether learned or inherent to one’s leadership style.

While these times are unprecedented, they also provide the opportunity for self-reflection and innovation – even transformation. This will require an appreciation for the momentous contributions throughout a nonprofit’s history along with an openness to change and evolution. Let's continue the conversation!

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