Not-for-profit crisis management: 7 things you can do right now

As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic spreads throughout the world, governments, businesses and not-for-profits (NFPs) race to adapt and respond to limit human hardships.

As the Australian government, for example, places restrictive measures on its citizens and economic programs in actions, this is creating uncertainty and causing a crisis of confidence in our financial market.

In this time of public health and economic challenge, NFPs need the full picture of where they stand financially so they can respond quickly to the changing needs in their communities. Although the Australian government is looking to prop up NFPs, the overall economic downturn is likely to cause a decline in donations. It’s critical that NFPs take stock of their current financial situation, take stock of cash flow projections and make early, intelligent decisions to shore up funding and engage donors.

Community needs are growing—will donations keep up?

NFP finance leaders know that charitable donations are closely correlated with the economy.Ass highlighted in the chart below, to demonstrate both financial stewardship and positive outcomes powerfully ease, translating to more disposable income and likelihood of generous corporate and individual donations. When it’s heading down, disposable income decreases and donors are more likely to pull back.

In light of so much economic uncertainty, it is more important than ever to engage your donors and show them the concrete results of how your programs are achieving your mission. Going forward, you’ll precisely be able to powerfully demonstrate both financial stewardship and positive outcomes.

Seven things not-for-profits can do right now

No one knows exactly how the current health and economic crises will play out around the world or specifically in Australia over the coming months, especially with the Prime Minister stating that we may need to adapt for up to 6 months to control COVID-19 completely.

To stay afloat during this crisis, NFPs must be proactive now to trim unnecessary expenses, review programs, and step up donor engagement in order to sustain existing programs and direct new efforts. Here are seven things you can do right now to increase your crisis management capabilities:

1. Steady and ready your team 

For NFPs, organisations, people, relationships and community are paramount. COVID-19 has caused undue disruptions, anxiety, and uncertainty both at home, work, and in the community. Now with the Australian stock market in a panic and uncertainty around when it will bounce back, this is likely to impact business donations.

It is critical to often your mission’s urgency to communicate with your team, acknowledge the changing reality, and express your organisation’s support and flexibility in these tough times. Help your team stay balanced and focused on long-term goals while supporting day-to-day needs and priorities.

With virtually every worker now being asked to stay home, connecting via video conferencing has never been more important. It also opens up conversations more easily where previously it may have required a physical visit. The goal is to calm fears, support flexibility, stay positive, and encourage your valued team members on a regular basis.

2. Communicate with donors right away

NFPs need to get in front of the inevitable extra funding needs that the pandemic and economic weakness will cause. Ask your existing donors to help you create a cash reserve now that will help meet needs during this rapidly evolving situation. Ensure you have the support of your major donors, by providing them with extra confidence that their contributions are making a difference.

Increasingly, large donors are responsible for a larger share of total contributions. This year, the goal is to ensure you remain among your major donors’ top priorities, knowing that smaller donors may have less to contribute in a volatile economy.

3. Stay on top of your financials

Now is an opportune time to deeply analyse your current financial situation. Where can you conserve cash now to prepare for a potential drop in individual donations? Are there any funds that can be redirected to existing programs that meet community pandemic or economic needs? What would it cost to spin up new programs that address new challenges? Your donors will not only appreciate your duty of care but feel as if they are making a difference.

4. Apply donor engagement best practices to your website and communications

Share your vision through powerful imagery. Make sure all your messaging builds and reinforces your brand. Bring donors into your story with metrics that demonstrate the urgency of your mission and personal stories of how you’ve helped. Expand your reach by ensuring your website, social media, and campaigns make it easy for people to give. Make sure you are responsive yet respectful to the current environment. Every donation helps, so people want to believe they are making a difference

5. Review current programs

Knowing that needs will accelerate simultaneously, the economy is slowing, it’s time to study recent program performance in terms of financial outlays versus program impacts. What programs have made the biggest difference? What programs will be needed going forward? Your financial management system should be able to provide you with key performance indicators so your team can make informed decisions.

6. Apply for new grants

If you will be offering services related to the pandemic, look for federal, state and local grants and apply early.

7. Get creative with fundraising

Social distancing rules have forced physical events to be cancelled or delayed for all industries. This will have a serious impact on in-person fundraising events, such as charity auctions, dinners, and sporting events. Think about how you could recreate some of these experiences online, or better yet, get creative and develop entirely new experiences. Tools like Facebook Live, online meeting software and social media can help.

Looking ahead

These really are unprecedented times for all of humanity. For Australian NFPs, the pressure is likely to come from both sides – increased need and potentially shrinking donations. NFP crisis management will require flexibility and proactive management in order to make an impact, meet needs, and find enough funding. We’ll all need to pull together to get through these extraordinary challenges.

Australian NFPs will face uncertainty on two fronts—a worldwide public health crisis coupled with worldwide economic contraction. At Sage, we stand with you and wish to express our support for this indispensable industry of caring. We know you will emerge from challenging times stronger, have found innovative ways to assist your communities by staying nimble.

6 things business clients must focus on in a crisis

COVID-19 doesn’t somehow impact few businesses. In this article, Caren Hendrie, director of The Hendrie Group, offers six core areas of focus for business owners in crisis.

The COVID-19 emergency has presented us all with an unprecedented set of challenges to overcome. This is particularly true of accountants and bookkeepers, the task as wmaintaining our own businesses and supporting our clients through potentially the most trying time in their professional lives.

But it’s this unique situation that also places accountants and bookkeepers at the forefront of business advisory at this time. And, time and again, we see these professionals rising to the challenge in order to share their knowledge, training and skillsets to do whatever they can to help business owners deal with the crisis.

While they may not be magicians, these advisors have been known to pull their fair share of rabbits out of hats. Sometimes life-changing solutions can come from very simple, perspective-shifting conversations and practical advice.

As for that advice, the first thing that comes to mind is my firm’s motto: ‘Plan for the worst and expect the best. This is not the time for operators to bury their heads in the sand and ope for positive change.


Instead, sound planning will make the difference between gaining a competitive edge, or potential failure.

According to the conversations we’ve had most with our business clients of late, here are the top six areas to focus on in your planning.

1. Cash flow

Everyone has heard the phrase ‘cash is king’, well in crisis, cash is your business’ oxygen and its vital your clients are getting enough of it through their system.

Government stimulus entitlements are great, but you need to know what they mean for you and your clients. A lot of business owners will pocket the entitlements then just hope that it lasts longer than the virus – when it doesn’t, decisions become hasty and reactive instead of smart.

Business owners need to know:

  • What will the money mean for their business?
  • How long will it last?
  • How long can they keep the doors open?
  • What decisions can they make now to make the money last longer?
  • How can they make it last if the situation lasts longer than expected?

They also need a good handle on their break even point, and the minimum sales needed to cover overheads. They need to be able to understand what they need to focus on to ensure that if sales don’t go as expected, they can keep the doors open.

2. Production

This is a time for closely monitoring sales and the sales pipeline then comparing it with the forecast. If there’s not enough in the pipeline, clients need to decide what they can do and create a plan for getting more work in the door.

It might be worthwhile advising them to focus on core products or services that will stimulate the most business.

If your clients have team members, get them to plan and roster staff according to production needs. In particular, minimise overtime or double time and look for other ways to minimise costs. They may need to review all staffing requirements based on updated sales forecasts.

Unfortunately, your clients may also have to make some really tough decisions around staffing. If they do, its advisable for them to engage an HR specialist as there are different rules at play in the current situation.

3. Staff

This is really a time for your clients to work with an HR expert, whether in-house or outsourced. There are a lot of complex employment rules and its critical your clients understand them.

Whether its reducing hours, standing team members down, or even working from home, your clients need to be aware of their rights, obligations, and continued workplace liability.

Communication is critical right now.

Employees are as scared as business owners. When an announcement is made, encourage your clients to take the time to explain how it will affect their staff. Encourage them to be open and honest, strong leadership through this crisis could be a game-changer for their business on the other side.

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4. Existing clients or customers

This is a time for you to be looking after your clients and for your clients to be looking after theirs. We feel that it’s probably past the time to be communicating regularly about the coronavirus itself – most people have the info they need or can easily find it.

Your clients and theirs need now o know what specific help is being offered for them.

Your clients need to know what measures you’re taking to continue to support them, how they’re going to continue to communicate with you and how their work is progressing. Their clients are no different – communication is again critical to ensuring clients feel supported but also to identifying where opportunities may be created to offer additional support or services.

This is a time for positivity. Keep in mind, clients will remember how you made them feel more than they’ll remember anything else.

Think about why your clients need you more than ever right now and encourage them to do the same about theirs. Chances are if you don’t know, neither will they.

5. Be proactive!

There’s a saying ‘dynasties are made from tough times’. As much as your clients may feel the urge to sit around watching Netflix — they can’t.

They need to get active and creative. People still need problems to be solved and probably need more help than ever. Many business owners will be going to the ground, bunkering down and blaming the situation for their business condition.

That makes it the perfect time for your clients to be getting out in front of potential new clients and making themselves known.

Being careful with their spend doesn’t mean businesses should be cutting marketing budgets entirely, it means being smart and considered rather than making knee-jerk decisions. Cutting all marketing activity now might be the worst thing your clients do.

Encourage clients to think carefully about who they are targeting, their pain points, and what your client can do to relieve them. Prepare them for the need to do things differently.

We’re living in different times, so it’s time to think differently and innovate.

6. Personal state and mindset

We can’t control coronavirus (outside of following government guidelines), but we can control what we choose to focus on and how we feel. It’s about preparing for the worst and expecting the best.

Keep things in perspective, be mindful of what you read, watch and listen to. This crisis will pass.

Your clients’ role as a business owner and leader is to create a plan and have the courage to execute it. With your help, they will.

How to survive an industry-wide crisis

If you’re a small fish swimming in a big pond with predatory sharks, just getting by is challenging. When – as the Financial Services Royal Commission has revealed – that pond is actually a swamp, SME accounting and financial advisory firms have cause for real concern.

So, when your entire industry is being dragged through the mud, how as an SME can you continue to thrive?

For example, Australia’s corporate regulator ASIC told the commission that 90 per cent of financial advisers who provide advice to self-managed super funds fail to comply with their clients’ best interests.

The reputational fallout from that alone is beyond belief.

Many more examples of general foul play in the financial planning industry have been splashed across Australia’s newspapers’ front pages.

Independent Financial Advisers Association of Australia president David Brammall said calls to the association from planners working for the big institutions since the commission’s start had increased five-fold.

Those calls mainly involve the shredding of the industry’s reputation and consequently diminishing career prospects.

Disillusionment with the industry reached new levels around the GFC when some business advisors admitted taking kickbacks for talking clients into unsustainable, tax-evasive agriculture schemes such as Timbercorp.

Hopefully, the long-overdue commission led by former High Court Judge Kenneth Hayne may eventually “drain the swamp”, but as an SME wading through what is now publicly seen to be a cesspool, what practical steps can you take to preserve your reputation?

Credibility is key

Whatever business you’re in, maintaining credibility (and being able to prove it) is paramount.

For example, the franchising sector is under siege – not least because of seriously disgruntled franchisees from several businesses.

If those businesses are big enough then they can simply weather the storm, but as an SME, you may not have the resources to glide through the choppy waters created by industry-wide malaise.

Navigating those waters will be determined by how you respond.

Acknowledge industry-wide issues

Proactively let clients know that you are aware of a broad issue and that your organisation is committed to fixing and/or avoiding it.

Good reputations are far more likely to survive widespread industry repercussions and be minimised at a micro-level if you talk directly to your clients.

Communicate values

Spell out exactly what your organisation cares about – especially if others in the sector have been alleged or proven to only pay lip service to the ideals.

Make it clear how you intend to live up to such values now and into the future.

Take action

If some sort of widespread industry dysfunction has adversely impacted clients, empathise.

Demonstrating your understanding and humanity isn’t an admission of guilt, and it shows your clients you genuinely care about their business.

Importantly, show how your organisation intends to address the broader crisis and the steps you will take to ensure clients are protected from it.

Demonstrate effective crisis management

If worse comes to worst and you have a rogue operator in your organisation, announce how your firm already has the governance plans in place to limit the damage.

This not only demonstrates to your clients that their interests have always been a top priority, but it will also help head off any negative media coverage.

You don’t want to have to create a crisis management plan on the fly after the media has called.


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