Running a Nonprofit in the Time of COVID-19

COVID-19, more commonly known as coronavirus, is a flu-like disease that originated in Wuhan, China. As of March 23, it has infected more than 343,394 people and killed about 14,774 people globally. The virus continues to spread around the world, bringing to halt schools, jobs, travel, events, and more. It’s become increasingly clear that to…

8 minutes read
Running a Nonprofit in the Time of COVID-19

tips to run nonprofit during coronavirus

COVID-19, more commonly known as coronavirus, is a flu-like disease that originated in Wuhan, China. As of March 23, it has infected more than 343,394 people and killed about 14,774 people globally. The virus continues to spread around the world, bringing to halt schools, jobs, travel, events, and more.

It’s become increasingly clear that to save lives we need to flatten the curve or rate at which the virus spreads through the population. And to flatten the curve, we need to physically separate. Many organizations are bracing for the impact of this new reality and scrambling to keep afloat.

Organizers have been canceling major global events across every industry. It’s an expensive and logistical nightmare. This has added to the burden coronavirus has already placed on the world economy. The Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development has said that the world’s economy could grow at its slowest rate since 2009.

The true cost of coronavirus on the conference and event industry won’t be fully known for some time, but it is already significant.

The direct economic loss from the cancellation of more than 10 major tech conferences due to the coronavirus outbreak has surpassed $1.1 billion, according to estimates the data intelligence company PredictHQ pulled for Recode.

How is the coronavirus outbreak affecting nonprofits?

Nonprofits face a wide range of impacts with the outbreak and spread of coronavirus.

One of the outcomes is increased and sustained staff and volunteer absence, or their decreased productivity as they might need to juggle duties like child care as schools close. There might be a disruption of services to clients and communities or a disruption of supplies or services provided by partners.

Cancellation of programs or events scheduled to happen in the next few months is a common consequence, and with that comes the corresponding reduced revenue.

Furthermore, there might be an increased demand for services/support from your clients and communities.

One of the most significant potential impacts facing nonprofits involves services that depend on a volunteer workforce. Volunteers may choose or be forced to stay home rather than provide their usual level of support.

Finally, nonprofit organizations often work with beneficiaries, who are themselves at substantial risk.

For example:

Nonprofits in New York City are already financially unstable — 40% have no cash reserves, 10% are insolvent, and less than 30% are financially strong. Without contingency funds, these concerns are prompting nonprofit leaders to consider different short-term and long-term scenarios. These range from having to lay off staff, making payroll, and paying vendors on time to the ability to cover rent and plan for possible eviction. Rent for nonprofits is the second largest expense, after personnel costs.

Nonprofits are facing serious possible revenue challenges as a result of COVID-19.

What can you do to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 on your nonprofit?

1. Stay up-to-date and communicate — a lot

Nominate a team member to gather, understand and bring to attention all the relevant information. Keep your organization up-to-date with government advice.

Always gather information from reputable sources. As you absorb the latest news, think critically about the source of the information before acting and beware of hype cycles and fake news. Here are some credible sources to stay up-to-date with:

Have a clear escalation plan for how to deal with COVID-19.

Communicate regularly with your staff members about any emergency response plans to COVID-19. Reassure your team that you care about their health and safety. Help to alleviate staff concerns by proactively sharing steps taken by your organization to keep the workforce safe. Urge your staff to adopt all protective measures and stay safe from coronavirus.

Take intentional steps to protect all employees from discrimination by recirculating existing anti-discrimination policies. Consult your organization’s general counsel along the way, and keep your board members informed of emerging challenges.

Here are some of the main points to make sure you’re communicating:

  • How and when employees should report for work;
  • How they should report their time;
  • When they can expect to be paid;
  • How to report concerns or issues of employees displaying symptoms of coronavirus.

Pro tip: Review and remind your staff members about your social media and digital guidelines on what to share outside of the organization, especially if cases of COVID-19 are discovered among your workforce or communities you serve.

nonprofits in time of coronavirus

2. Take your events online

If possible (given time and resources), consider moving your events online instead of canceling them. Some types of in-person events can work just as well virtually, in the form of an online event. This could be your opportunity to explore those technologies you were always reluctant to look into.

Current events are bringing live streaming to the forefront. St. Jude just announced they will “transform the St. Jude PLAY LIVE Summit into a digital experience“.

When canceling your event, communicate that while the event is not going forward in-person, your organization is still committed to the cause and is moving the event online. Provide details on why this decision is in the best interest of your community.

If you are rescheduling the event, be ready for participants to drop out because of conflicts.

Luckily, there are already existing ways to easily host online events.

Over 100,000 online-only events were hosted on Eventbrite in 2019.  Here’s a detailed guide on how to create an online-only event on Eventbrite.

Pro tip 1: Choose to go for a webinar if you have content and slides to share with your attendees and a live stream for events with a larger audience.

Pro tip 2: If you had to cancel your fundraising gala dinner, opt for a virtual gala dinner and invite all your attendees to join online. Use Donorbox for online fundraising, as your virtual gala dinner campaign.

If your organizing team is feeling disappointed or low on motivation, look for creative ways to motivate them.

3.  Involve everyone in the solution

Reach out to your stakeholders with a sense of urgency and tell them they are pivotal to help tackle the situation effectively and urgently. Make sure this key message is sent to all of your stakeholders, telling them the steps they can take to help.

Assemble your team or form an emergency preparedness task force with leadership and staff.

Working together or in smaller groups, identify critical vulnerabilities in your ability to meet your mission. Tackle each key population and program. Include guidance from local officials in your scenario planning.

Keep in mind that scaling back non-essential services may help focus resources on your most important activities.

crisis management for nonprofit during covid-19

4. Protect your employees

Institute travel restrictions to protect your workers and volunteers. Examine your telework, overtime, and leave policies to ensure that they are flexible enough to accommodate the current environment caused by COVID-19.

If your organization is making the shift to working from home and wants good team meetings, you can start by just making sure that everyone has up-to-date hardware and software and a robust Wi-Fi connection.

Here are some tips to work efficiently as remote teams:

  • Make sure that all team members have strong internet access.
  • Have the participants use headsets that put the microphone very close to their mouths, clean their cameras, sit so that light hits their face, and learn how to use mute buttons.
  • Create an online space (a chat room, blog, Slack channel, etc.) for sharing non-work-related and just-for-fun content. This helps reduce the feeling of distance between team members and creates a sense of community.

running nonprofit in times of coronavirus

5. Get friendly with the tools

While remote work might seem intimidating to start with, it can be made simple with a plethora of efficient tools at our disposal. Numerous online tools can help keep your day-to-day operations smooth and minimize potential disruptions.

Here are some tools to help maintain a smooth internal workflow.

Online fundraising

Donorbox’s fundraising software integrates seamlessly with your website and allows you to create simple donations forms. The platform allows uninterrupted recurring donations and will help you bolster your ongoing fundraising efforts amid the COVID-19 setback. Currently, Donorbox is supporting many nonprofits by offering fiscally friendly options.

Video calls/meetings

Zoom is great for video meetings or conference calls. It helps run smooth virtual meetings, from one-on-one to the entire team, and keeps glitches to a minimum.

Synchronous communication

Slack is a great tool for communication – both formal and informal. Slack is a real-time messaging platform that lets you chat in pairs, small groups, or as an entire team.

Pro tip: Oskar is a Slackbot that tracks your team’s happiness by encouraging them to share how they feel. This could be especially helpful in these times of isolation.


Whether it’s Dropbox, Box, or Google Drive, pick a document storage tool and stick with it. Use the commenting feature such as the one in Google Docs to collaborate on documents.


Use the same calendar tool to make scheduling meetings immensely easier within a team. Google Calendar is a great one, but there are other tools as well. Team members must have equal access to the calendar. This will put a stop to endless email threads discussing schedules and time zones.

Calendly lets people book virtual meetings with you, with meeting times automatically shown in their time zone.

Shared plan

Trello is another great app for keeping track of projects and assigning tasks to team members.

Toggl lets you break your day into smaller, more digestible tasks and keep track of time spent on each task.

Asana is another popular project and task management tool. Asana helps plan projects, assign tasks, and see what everyone on the team has on their plate.

Timely is a time management tool that helps you understand how you are spending your time, stay connected with your workforce and report accurately on capacity, budgets and projects.


Mural is an online brainstorming tool that lets teams collaborate and share their brilliant ideas in real-time through virtual sticky notes, images, text, shapes, and so much more.

responding to covid-19 as nonprofit

6. Optimize your website for online donations

With many in-person events being canceled and with social distancing being recommended, online donations become more important than ever for nonprofit organizations looking to fundraise.

By offering convenient payment methods and simple donation forms, you can increase the rate of completed transactions and capture more donations with a smooth donation experience.

Furthermore, start thinking about different types of campaigns that you could execute online during the year ahead.

Think about the different avenues that will spur giving through social media now. Consider how you can ramp up online campaigns planned for the end of the year to compensate for any event or in-person fundraising losses now.

Now is the time to revisit how you can make Giving Tuesday or end-of-the-year campaigns even bigger.

Some Bonus Tips

1. Protect your beneficiaries

Many nonprofit events and programs take place in communities that may not be equipped to address an outbreak of the coronavirus.

Therefore, it’s important to take caution to not potentially expose these vulnerable communities to the virus through accidental transmission from the volunteer or staff teams.

If your services are essential, provide clear and updated information to raise awareness of prevention measures like handwashing and minimum contact between staff and beneficiaries, respecting the social distancing guidelines. At this stage, the most important message may also be one of reassurance.

2. Create a remote work policy

Consider creating a remote work policy, if you don’t already have one. This will help bring clarity on how to operate for every employee, including those who are working remotely for the first time.

3. Consider applying for SBA Disaster Assistance

The U.S. Small Business Administration is offering designated states and territories low-interest federal disaster loans for working capital to small businesses and NPOs suffering substantial economic injury as a result of coronavirus (COVID-19). Read more about it on their official website.

4. Revisit your crisis management plan

Take the time to revisit your crisis management plan if you have one. If you don’t, now is a great time to create one. Information from the CDC and WHO can provide helpful strategies and responses for your employees.

A crisis management plan for your organization should consider the impact on the individual or employee, impact on the organization, and impact on the community. Carefully and succinctly determine how each of these groups is impacted and how the harm can be minimized with the least amount of recovery time once the crisis ends.

Pro tip 1: Consider creating a matrix of your nonprofit’s most critical services and the minimum number of people required to support those services. Consider the legal issues that may flow from a decision to keep volunteers or employees engaged in your activities if they risk exposure.

There’s a lot to consider, but take it one step at a time!

Pro tip 2: Create a crisis management team. Provide your crisis management team members with staff, vendor, and partner contact information.

impact of coronavirus on nonprofits

And remember — we’re in this together

Running a nonprofit in a time of crisis means learning how to operate in uncertainty, how to have empathy and solidarity, and how to stay calm and focused.

It means communicating when you don’t necessarily have all the information and making decisions that might be difficult.

It requires us to stay optimistic when it’s hardest to do so, trusting that we will come out of this stronger than ever. As a community, our top priority during this time is to support your needs as nonprofit professionals. We will get through these challenging times together.

Reach out to our Donorbox team if you have any questions or concerns that we might help you with. Donorbox is reducing its platform fee to 0.5% for nonprofits working directly in relief for those affected by coronavirus for next 2 months.

Avatar photo

Raviraj heads the sales and marketing team at Donorbox. His growth-hacking abilities have helped Donorbox boost fundraising efforts for thousands of nonprofit organizations.

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