5 Tips to Leading your Organization through a Crisis

Learn how to be prepared to lead your organization during a crisis period.
Learn how to be prepared to lead your organization during a crisis period.

You are probably in a position you did not expect to be in a month ago. The world has been turned upside down by the coronavirus COVID-19, the economy has been ground to a halt, society is practicing "social distancing” while being quarantined in their homes, and your team is looking for guidance.

So what do you need to do?

Tips to leading during a crisis period:

Tip 1 - Establish a Realistic Perspective

You may think this is the time to be the quintessential optimist, but your team is not looking for blind optimism here. You need to be realistic yet encouraging at the same time. COVID-19 is a problem that is not to be ignored. It will pass, but until then we must learn to work through it. You need to lead your team in that manner.

Leaders guide their teams and organizations through problems, they don't ignore them.

How do you do that? The first step is to understand that this too shall pass. The world has experienced pandemics before and survived them. The world has also experienced economic global crises before and survived those. We WILL survive this. There is another side. Until we get there, you need to be steering the ship and encouraging your team to "row the boat.”

This takes us to the second tip…

Tip 2 - Identify Problems and Opportunities

Every crisis will reveal a set of problems and opportunities for your organization. It is your responsibility as a leader to identify those and address them.

The problems you identify could be any of the following (or others not listed here):

  • Economic problems. Perhaps cash flow is down due to lost revenue from fundraising. How are you going to address this? You will need to determine what costs you can realistically cut and how you plan to continue to raise money during the crisis. I want to spend more time on this issue because I suspect this may be your most pressing concern while you read this. Here are some things you need to consider:
  • The problems your organization solves in society will far surpass the time period of this crisis. Please make sure you are not cutting costs and services that your constituents will need once the virus is contained. You need to maintain this perspective.
  • It is OK to ask for donations during the crisis, even if your organization does not directly impact the crisis at hand. Your constituents still need your help. Research on disorders needs to continue, disabled adults need to be serviced, children need to be taught, etc. The key will be HOW you ask for money, not if. So if you are in a financial crisis, do not immediately assume you need to stop fundraising.
  • Morale problems. Your team is scared, fearful, confused, doubtful, anxious. You get the picture. They are not as apt to "row the boat” unless they know someone is steering it and pushing them forward. That has to be you.
  • Programmatic problems. Perhaps your program services are impacted (e.g you run a Soup Kitchen which has been shut down). How are you going to address the impacts of your program? In these cases, look for opportunities to pivot or adjust your program services. Perhaps you can't operate a soup kitchen, but instead you can make meals and deliver them to shelters or even hospitals to first responders. Get creative.

Every crisis can also reveal opportunities. These could be new program services you can provide like the example of pivoting your soup kitchen to providing meals to hospital workers. There may also be an opportunity to reorganize your team or clean up parts of your operation that you have not previously had time to address.

Here at Handbid, our team is taking the opportunity to improve our knowledge base, optimize business processes, complete previously tabled projects, etc. Consider doing the same.


Tip 3 - Act Swiftly and Decisively

This may take you out of your comfort zone, but you need to move quickly. You do not have months to make decisions. You will make mistakes, but that is ok. React quickly to the mistakes, correct them, and move on. Your team will appreciate you pressing things forward and the quick decisions being made to better the organization.

It is not practical to take a long time to make decisions when things are moving so quickly. You are a leader because you have the unique ability to think long term while you make short term decisions. You are in charge so you need to take charge.


Tip 4 - Communicate Often and with Empathy

Be Empathetic.

While you want to encourage your organization, your donors and your constituents, you also need to recognize and accept the fact that they may be fearful, panicked, confused, focused on their families and not on their job. Do not be afraid to acknowledge their feelings. People are more apt to follow someone who is "real” with them and empathizes with their feelings.

Stay connected and connect your team.

You need to communicate more than you ever have before with your team, your donors and your constituents. If you have a weekly staff meeting, consider doing a shorter one daily. Have you written a letter to your constituents yet (you know, the people that your organization serves?). What about your donors? They want to hear from you. They want to know about your situation. Here are some tips to consider when communicating:

Communicating with your Team

  • Do it often. Daily in fact.
  • When using video conferencing tools, make everyone turn on their camera. Seeing faces will really help keep your team connected.
  • Meet from time to time about non-work related matters. At Handbid, we established a weekly Handbid Virtual Happy Hour. This is a time for the team to just log into a video conference and catch up on their lives with each other. You can't believe the stress it eliminates.

Communicating with your Donors

  • Do it. Now.
  • Be real. Tell your donors about your current situation. Remind them of the long term work your organization is doing. Work that will need to be done long after COVID-19 goes away.
  • Be respectful. Recognize that they too are in a tough situation. We all are. The point of communication is not to guilt them into supporting you, but to give them words of encouragement and concern about their health, safety and of their families; all while reminding them that your organization still exists and is still set on doing the good work they have supported in the past.
  • Be specific. What do you need? When do you need it? You need to ask. If your donors are not in a situation to support you, they will respectfully decline. But many of them are ready and eager to support you. Moreover, supporting you helps get their mind off of the current situation and allows them to focus again on the things in life that they positively care about. Do not rob them of that opportunity by not communicating to them.

Communicating with your Constituents

  • Do it. Now.
  • Be real as well. Tell them about the current situation and whether any of your program services are impacted by the crisis.
  • Be empathetic. Like your donors and team, they too are enduring this crisis. It is important to recognize that.
  • Ask for help if you need it. If anyone needs you to succeed, it is the people you serve. If you need their help to raise funds or endure the impact of a program service change, you need to ask them.
  • Encourage them. They want to know that you are in this for the long term. While the crisis may thwart your plans right now, you need to let your constituents know that your organization will be there for them once the crisis is over.

Tip 5 - Stay Healthy

Sure you don't want to contract the virus, but in addition, you want to be healthy. Get adequate sleep, eat right, exercise. Why? Because all of those things will give you the energy you need to lead through this crisis.

You will be better for it and someday down the road, when the next crisis comes, you will be a seasoned veteran.

Hopefully these tips will help you organize and prepare to be the leader your team, donors, and constituents so desperately need you to be right now.


Blessings and best wishes to you,



Jeff Porter
CEO & Founder



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