COVID-19 doesn’t need to slow you down


Kris Putnam-Walkerly


In the past week, I’ve heard a dozen examples of philanthropists who dramatically slowed or halted their work because of cancelled trips or the need to work remotely. Assuming loved ones and colleagues are not ill, there is no reason philanthropic efforts must come to a grinding halt because of COVID-19. While face-to-face interaction is great, there are many ways to work remotely.

Here are three examples of philanthropists slowing down during the pandemic:

  • A start-up had plans to launch it’s first corporate giving program and was looking forward to receiving feedback from nonprofit organizations during an upcoming meeting. The meeting was cancelled because of concerns about COVID-19. So, the company decided to postpone launching it’s giving program until the fall when they can re-convene the group.
  • A foundation leader planned to fly across the country to seek advice from a colleague about a new project of strategic importance to their organization. His organization has asked all employees to refrain from nonessential travel, so he rescheduled the trip for five months later.
  • The leader of a corporate giving program told a grantee that he would be unable to respond for a few weeks because the company has asked employees to work remotely.

If something is strategically important, develop and implement it using the tools at your disposal as quickly as possible. And if it’s not that important, don’t do it. Working remotely means just that. Working. From a different location.

It’s wise to seek community input before launching a new grants program. Seeking feedback from trusted colleagues before dramatically changing strategy is also smart. But there are myriad ways to seek input and advice that don’t require in-person communication. You can talk to people on the phone, hold video conference calls, conduct phone interviews, conduct online focus groups, and do email surveys. You can do all of this for free (or minimal cost) using easily available technology such as your smart phone, Zoom, Skype, SurveyMonkey and more.

You can do this starting today. You don’t need to wait five to seven months!

Similarly, these tools are available to the remote worker. Twenty years ago, working remotely required a computer, printer, internet access, a table, chair, and a fax machine. Not much has changed (except perhaps the fax machine!). Today you can remotely access just about anything you need from computers and smart phones – including grants management systems, constituent engagement systems, email, voicemail, and of course your grantees and colleagues.

Sure working remotely can be challenging at first, especially if this is something that you aren’t used to. You might have children home from school, a spouse who is also working from home, or a pile of laundry calling your name. Once you pull through any initial feelings of shock and disorientation, and adjust to your temporary “new normal,” you can put simple practices in place to ensure you and your colleagues are productive while not in the office.

For example, establish working routines. Give people control over how and when they work. Focus on the results, not a schedule. Check in on your employees daily to see how they are doing and what you can do to support them. Make sure they have access to the technology they need and show them how to use it. Be flexible. Offer to extend deadlines if that will help them juggle work and family.

And if it’s not possible to get your work done remotely, perhaps because of cybersecurity restrictions on technology access, then do the things you always wished you had time to do: Read that article. Learn and develop yourself professionally by listening to a podcast or watching a webinar. Call your grantees and ask them how they are doing and how you can help. Conduct online research for your next funding initiative. Get to inbox zero. Or simply think.

Kris Putnam-Walkerly is a global philanthropy advisor. Learn how to banish this scarcity mind-set in her new bookDelusional Altruism: Why Philanthropists Fail To Achieve Change And What They Can Do To Transform Giving. Pre-order your copy by March 22 to receive free bonus offers including a private consultation or having Kris give a webinar to your organization!

This article was originally published in Forbes on 12 March 2020 and reposted on the Alliance blog with the author’s permission. The original article can be viewed here.

Tagged in: Covid-19 Funding practice

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