[UPDATE: November 12, 2020]
Board decisions made in recent months in hopes of resuming at least some regular operations have been dashed by the dramatic worsening of the pandemic. On the other hand, the prospect of a vaccine broadly available by mid-2021 may mean an end in sight to any retrenchment moves taken over the winter.
This will likely be a demoralizing and stressful time for nonprofit boards, particularly for those seeing greater demand for services but less revenue. However, for purposes of “scenario planning,” the contours of the next quarter or two are now more sharply in focus – with light at the end of the tunnel.
[UPDATE: September 24, 2020]
Most of us had hoped that, by Labor Day, we would be returning to at least some semblance of normalcy. Clearly, we are not. (And many philanthropy thought leaders now urge that we should not want to return to a “normal” that rested on flimsy and flawed structures and institutions that led to deep inequalities and unfairness.)
The nonprofit sector includes a broad range of organizational challenges and decisions. Some groups, including those with “essential workers,” have largely stayed open from the earliest days of the pandemic; they have had to deal with complex issues of safety for their staff and the public as well as surges in demand for services. Other organizations moved to remote staff work and to modified or deeply curtailed operations and programs. They now face shifting and contradictory government and health directives about when and how to reopen. Sadly, a sizable number of our ranks are facing dismal prospects for long-term survival.
The role of the board of directors – along with executive leadership and staff – is now more critical than ever.
[UPDATE: June 24, 2020]
Three months into the COVID-19 pandemic, the board’s duties continue to be critical, despite the competing and important demands on their time and attention by their own business and personal responsibilities. Each director must continue to commit to heightened and continuous participation in strategy and operational planning sessions, particularly now as many states and local governments authorize phased reopening permissions.
The realities of this pandemic crisis have gone against our natural desires to get back to “normal.” Amid the waves of reopenings around the nation are new moves by officials and health advisors to consider or implement retrenchments because of the unrelenting spread of the disease in various hot spots. This creates an element of existential chaos and uncertainty that no one in our society – including nonprofit executives and board members – has previously known or experienced.
There are important decisions to be made about the near or long-term viability of individual programs and activities as well as the sustainability of the organization itself. The matter of succession planning should move front and center in light of the real possibility that the organization may lose one or more key people.
The revision or drafting of new formal, written, policies that ordinarily might be handled at the staff level may now rise to the level of board attention. Specific topics are covered in other sections including “Health and Safety,” “Employment Law,” and “Remote Operations.”
[March 31, 2020]
The board of directors of a nonprofit organization has the ultimate power, authority, and responsibility for it. The board may delegate management of the activities to others including the chief executive officer, “provided that the activities and affairs of the corporation shall be managed and all corporate powers board’s duties continue to be critical now that it’s clear that this crisis shall be exercised under the ultimate direction of the board.”
More than ever, in a time of crisis, the board chair and the CEO must work together.
The board acts as a collective body, but the individual members have fiduciary duties to the organization.