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Nonprofit Boards in Times of Crisis By Tom Okarma

What Should Nonprofit Boards Be Doing to Help?

Here are my  thoughts on what nonprofit boards should be doing to emerge out of the quarantines, lockdowns, and general isolation we’ve been facing.

Even if your board is only meeting via Zoom, etc., here are a few ideas on how to begin moving forward and recapturing the initiative that was taken away from us all in 2020.

Board Help

What should nonprofit boards be doing right now to help?

First of all, It’s important that both boards and leaders reestablish their leadership roles. In order for staff, volunteers, clients, donors, and others to begin feeling confident that your agency is getting back to business, they need to know where to look for leadership.

Board Decisions

Recent events have dictated far too many of our decisions.

Wherever possible, be assertive in your management and take control. Start making decisions and plans again, even if only in the short term. Others will catch the positive momentum and step up.

If possible, nonprofit boards should schedule a one day retreat to allow themselves time to ask necessary questions.

5 Key Questions

There are five key questions a board should ask in times of great challenge.

  1. What did we learn about our organization from our Covid experience?
  2. Are there weaknesses and shortcomings that needs to be addressed?
  3. What do we need to start or stop doing immediately?
  4. What they can do to help the Executive Director bring back calm, stability, and confidence to the staff and volunteers, donors, etc?
  5. What will our new operating environment look like? Don’t assume it will ever be business as you once knew it.

5 Action Steps

Once the questions are answered, here is how board should take action:

  1. Capture the best idea from the one day retreat and assign each one to a small team to execute ASAP.
  2. Demonstrate leadership and confidence in the staff and volunteers who have been under tremendous pressure and stress.
  3. Analyze the skills and experiences of all current directors in order to determine what holes or gaps the pandemic exposed and work to fix them as quickly as possible.
  4. Review the agency’s goals for the next 12-24 months and reassess their importance. Survival thinking may be necessary, but not elaborate strategies. Don’t bother developing a new strategic plan just yet. Wait until you have a better sense of your operating environment.
  5. Listen to the staff; what are their concerns or ideas?

Sourcing others

Above all, talk to other leaders in your community.

What are their thoughts? Are there collaboration opportunities out there? Maybe you should bring in some well-respected, former directors and talk with them.

No one has all the answers to these questions but by listening and being inquisitive you will find others who are struggling with the same issues as you. Between all of you, there is a good chance of finding workable solutions.


Tom Okarma is a top-rated nonprofit leadership author, keynote speaker and consultant in strategic planning, board development, and board governance. His devotion to helping nonprofits, combined with over 30+ years of business experience, make him a dramatic force for change, helping nonprofits increase their impact. Tom has spent the last decade serving and leading on numerous nonprofit boards.


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