[UPDATE: November 13, 2020]

The severe spike in COVID-19 cases all around the nation as well as the likelihood that one or more vaccines may become available (soon in limited distribution and more widely perhaps in mid-2021) brings the planning process for the nonprofit sector into somewhat clearer focus than even a month or two ago.

Using “scenario planning” as the theoretical framework, there are fewer possibilities. Of course, the delay in what everyone had hoped might be continued phased reopenings makes the path forward for the nonprofit sector more precarious.

Whether there will be a much needed infusion of financial help from the federal government remains unclear.


[UPDATE: September 24, 2020]

Planning has remained fraught with uncertainty as the progress of the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to be marked by surges and retrenchments. Now it seems clear that “scenario planning” – rather than traditional “strategic planning” – is the best way to meet the current and upcoming challenges.


[UPDATE: June 25, 2020]

A key question for each organization is how to plan – if, indeed, planning is even possible in the face of massive and unprecedented uncertainty.

But the experts diverge on the best approach. Some experts advise doubling down on the “strategic planning” that many nonprofits have adopted. Others say that “scenario planning” is the only logical choice in the current volatile circumstances.

“The goal, nonprofit leaders need to remind themselves, is not necessarily the survival of their individual organizations, but ensuring ongoing services and support for their constituents.” That’s why many more groups than usual are at least considering merger or collaboration possibilities.

And now that all states are “reopening” in phased stages, the planning issues facing nonprofits around the nation have become considerably more complex. Also, because of starkly rising infection rates, there may be a slowing of these reopenings or even retrenchment back to an earlier, more closed-up operational situation.


[March 31, 2020]

Nonprofit organizations must take important steps now to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and – as much as possible – plan for the near future and their ultimate survivability. There are several essential steps:

  • Review finances and, particular, the cash position
  • Assess damage to revenue streams
  • Determine where reduced operations will cut expenses, or where government programs or emergency loans or benefits may help
  • Review all policies, procedures, and insurance coverage
  • Review all grants and contracts: in certain cases, a “force majeure” (Act of God) clause may be in effect that will excuse performance or eliminate penalties

Some organizations have business continuity plans in place but even those may turn out to be inadequate in light of the catastrophic events we face. For the many other groups without advance plans and policies in place, the task will be more daunting – but necessary.

Experts concur on one important point: Communicate regularly and consistently with everyone inside or outside the organization, including donors and funders.

Contact FPLG (619) 780.3839

Over the last eight months of disruption and uncertainty, the nonprofit sector has been asked to keep its doors open and services going while its sources of funding have been rocked. Business models that were honed for the pre-pandemic world where we had grown comfortable working no longer seemed secure. Each organization faced a question: Where will we find the money to keep going? Often, there was no good answer.

–Martin Levine, NPQ (10/28/20)

Scenario planning is ‘an approach to thinking about the future that is rooted in the recognition that even in the best of times, we can’t accurately anticipate what will come ahead. Instead decision-makers can begin to imagine multiple plausible pictures of the future and rehearse how their organizations might respond.’

–Linda J. Rosenthal, J.D., (8/6/20) FPLG Blog

The COVID-19 crisis has created a moment of hyper-uncertainty for social sector organizations. No one knows how the future will unfold … [Nonprofit and foundation leaders] … find themselves swamped by having to make organization-defining choices during this extraordinary period of disruption.

— Gabriel Kasper and Justin Marcoux, The Monitor Institute (7/20/20)

With greatly reduced income and increased need, nonprofits may have to find new ways to deliver outcomes — whether evolving existing programs, embracing technology or partnering with businesses. Thinking beyond current parameters is crucial.

–Jeff Jowdy (5/18/20)

Should you engage in strategic planning right now? No – definitely not. Conserve resources so you can respond with agility in the face of uncertainty. You have no sound basis for deciding what you will achieve five years from now. If you think you do, you’re kidding yourself. Stop wasting money.

Ted Bilich, Risk Alternatives 4/30/20



Remote-Work Costs: Must Nonprofit Reimburse?

[June 5, 2020] Among the many adjustments that employers - including nonprofits - have had to make during the COVID-19 pandemic is the abrupt switch to remote work for some or all of their employees. That includes making sure that everyone in the workforce has needed hardware, software, and internet and phone connectivity.  California is among the jurisdictions that initiated early and mandatory stay-at-home orders for a large portion of the population and economy. There [...]

Filing Deadlines Extended for Nonprofit Organizations

[April 24, 2020] By the third week of March 2020, governments at all levels had begun to respond to the many questions and issues raised by the COVID-19 emergency, including - most notably - the curtailment or suspension of operations and activities by individuals and entities on account of new stay-at-home orders  and recommendations.  The necessary federal emergency declaration under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Act was made in mid-March. The [...]

UPDATE: The CARES Act and Nonprofits

[March 27, 2020] The third prong of the Congressional response to the COVID-19 pandemic - the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) (S. 747) - is now before the House of Representatives, having passed the Senate on Wednesday. The House is expected to approve it today with overwhelming support; voting is expected to begin shortly.  It could be signed at the White House and in effect before the end of this weekend. [...]

Some Good News: Funders are Stepping Up

Ten days ago, we posted Funders Must Step Up - Right Now! (March 16, 2020).   That same morning, influential blogger Vu Le had posted Funders, this is the rainy day you have been saving up for. Mr. Le has long been a vocal critic of many foundations’ viewing the five percent payout figure in the tax code as a ceiling instead of what it is: a floor.  During that week, as most of us were [...]

Nonprofit Board Meetings in an Emergency

The devastating pandemic has brought sudden and profound challenges for all of us.  In What Nonprofit Board Members Should Be Doing Right Now to Address the COVID-19 Situation, (March 16, 2020), the experts from BoardSource write:  “As the world responds to the threats of COVID-19, many nonprofits and their boards are wrestling with difficult questions and decisions.”  A rewrite of that sentence may be in order; every nonprofit and its board is flying blind in [...]

The Charitable Sector: COVID-19 Relief and Economic Stimulus Package

America's charities request $60 billion infusion of support to help the most vulnerable March 18, 2020 The COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic facing the country is having a profound impact on the economy and has greatly expanded the need for charitable organizations to provide additional services in an unprecedented manner. At the same time, the economic downturn will undoubtedly result in a contraction in contributions and other sources of revenue which are the lifeblood of many charitable [...]

Coronavirus and Nonprofits: Challenges & Resources

What a difference a week makes. Last week, the news media focused on the minutiae of the primary-election horse race. This week, Americans have been forced to confront the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. For the nonprofit sector, the emergency becomes a double-barreled crisis: we are both victims and saviors. This is not an unfamiliar conundrum; there are frequent natural disasters that devastate one area or another. This nation’s charitable organizations - and, in particular, the social [...]

Funders Must Step Up – Right Now!

“Funders,” writes nonprofit blogger Vu Le, “this is the rainy day you have been saving up for.”  Recently, we wrote about Mr. Le’s earlier plea for America’s foundations to step up their payouts beyond the “five percent rule” in the federal tax code. In an article last summer, he characterized it as a moral imperative: The ethical argument for foundations to increase their annual payout rate beyond 5% (August 4, 2019). This morning, it’s a [...]

Small Business Association Disaster Loan Guidance and Resources

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has an existing program, the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, that extends disaster relief loans to small businesses, including nonprofits, to help alleviate economic injury caused by disasters.  On Thursday, March 12, 2020, the SBA announced that the program will be available to claims arising from COVID-19.  The SBA will work with state officials to offer loans of up to $2 million.  “These loans may be used to pay [...]

Go to Top