In the face of adversity, it’s not uncommon for organizations, businesses, and individuals to adapt, evolve, and overcome challenges. This resiliency and adaptability have been put to the test on a global scale over the past few years as the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically altered our world. Many sectors were significantly impacted, and nonprofit organizations were no exception. However, a recent white paper written by Independent Sector Visiting Scholar Dr. Mirae Kim and her co-author, Dr. Dyana Mason — “A Shock to the Status Quo: Characteristics of Nonprofits That Make Strategic Decisions During a Crisis” — delves into the intriguing ways some nonprofits not only survived, but thrived in the face of this unprecedented crisis.
Based on three national surveys conducted between April 2020 and April 2023, this white paper sheds light on the transformational journey of nonprofits as they navigated the unpredictable waters of the pandemic. As the report dives into the key findings, you will learn how some nonprofit organizations defied the odds, making strategic decisions that ultimately reshaped their operations and outlook for the better.
Adapting to the New Norm: The initial wave of COVID-19 caused widespread disruption for nonprofits. Events were canceled, staff retention plummeted, and challenges loomed on the financial horizon. As the years rolled by, however, the situation gradually improved. Notably, the white paper highlights a significant shift toward online program delivery, with a remarkable 42 percent of nonprofits still offering online programs as of April 2023. This digital transition wasn’t just a survival tactic; it marked a lasting change in how these organizations operate, providing them with a new and effective tool for engaging with their audiences.
Strategic Planning as a Lifeline: Another crucial finding of the white paper was the surge in strategic planning within nonprofits. An impressive 60 percent of surveyed organizations reported engaging in a strategic planning process. This proactive approach enabled them to chart a course through the chaos, ensuring that they were better equipped to navigate whatever challenges lay ahead. Strategic planning emerged as a crucial lifeline, enabling nonprofits to set clear goals and priorities in an ever-shifting landscape.
Advocacy and New Initiatives: While the world grappled with the pandemic, nonprofits also took on a more active role in advocacy efforts, with 42 percent of organizations increasing their advocacy efforts. This shift demonstrated a deep commitment to their missions and a recognition of the need for collective voices to be heard in uncertain times. Furthermore, more than a third of nonprofits introduced new programs, delivered in person or through hybrid models, allowing them to cater to diverse needs in their communities. The paper emphasizes how adaptability has allowed nonprofits to better fulfill their missions, even in the face of unprecedented challenges.
The Challenge of Funding: Despite the silver linings in these adaptive strategies, nonprofits continued to face funding challenges. A significant percentage of organizations encountered issues with corporate sponsors and major donors, with drops in donations remaining a concern. While these obstacles are daunting, the white paper suggests that nonprofits’ agility to innovate during difficult times has turned setbacks into stepping stones. The data reveals that those nonprofits facing changes in government funding, whether cuts or increases, were more likely to introduce new programming. This demonstrates that changes, while disruptive, can also drive nonprofit organizations to diversify and adapt, not only to survive, but to thrive during crises.
Rising to the Challenge: Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this white paper is its revelation that nonprofits, despite harsh conditions caused by the pandemic, found the strength to evolve, adapt, and grow. While the challenges brought on by COVID-19 are undeniable, those nonprofit organizations that came out on top capitalized on support, transformed, and continued to pursue their vital missions. Their stories of resilience, innovation, and tenacity are not just inspiring. They serve as a testament to the incredible potential of nonprofits to not only weather the storm, but to emerge from it stronger and more determined than ever.
The white paper, “A Shock to the Status Quo: Characteristics of Nonprofits That Make Strategic Decisions During a Crisis,” offers a captivating look at the journey of nonprofits through the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a testament to the resilience and adaptability of these organizations, highlighting the positive outcomes that can arise from challenge and change. The paper is a must-read for anyone interested in how nonprofits thrived during the pandemic, demonstrating the indomitable spirit of nonprofit resilience and innovation. In a world full of uncertainties, this white paper offers a beacon of hope and inspiration, revealing the stories of nonprofits that transformed crisis into opportunity.
Mirae Kim, who served as an Independent Sector visiting scholar, is an Associate Professor of Nonprofit Studies and MPA Program Director at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University.