Coronavirus: Advice on leadership

Headshot of Michelle Chambers

Guest Bloggers | 19 March 2020

THINK are sharing with us guidance on how to approach fundraising activities against the backdrop of the current coronavirus outbreak. In this article Michelle Chambers gives advice for fundraising leaders on how they can play a vital role in navigating these difficult times.

In the latest of our blogs sharing our THINKing on keeping the fundraising wheels turning against the backdrop of coronavirus we consider the actions fundraising leaders should be taking. With the situation changing daily, this is a time for leaders to be exercising ‘deliberate calm’ (i.e. detaching from a fraught situation and thinking clearly about how to navigate it) and demonstrating ‘bounded optimism’ (i.e. confidence combined with realism)  – as  Gemma D'Auria and Aaron De Smet wrote in their blog on leadership in a crisis.

Fundraising leaders will be under extreme pressure from other parts of their organisations to give clarity on the impact on income and from their teams, to provide clear guidance on what they should be doing, as well as having their own personal concerns for the wellbeing of their families and friends. It is vital, therefore, that fundraising leaders take care of their own wellbeing as well as that of staff, supporters, volunteers and donors. Leaders are often guilty of self-neglect, so make sure you keep an eye on yourself. Here are some actions we recommend you consider:

  • Keep abreast of the situation both nationally and for your charity – as we have seen over the last week, the situation is changing daily and so schedule time to update yourself on the national picture – we recommend the BBC website for this – and in particular, listen to the daily government press conferences. Changes will affect different parts of your staff team in different ways and regional variations will be seen too. Make sure you know what is happening so that you can respond accordingly.

    Your charity’s situation will be changing daily too. There is likely to be a scheduled time when leaders are updated on the internal situation and so make sure you are part of these, or part of an immediate cascade of information.

  • Provide your team with regular updates – communicate, communicate, communicate. Teams will be feeling worried and adrift from their normal working routine, particularly if now home working rather than being office based. Ensure your communications cover all angles that might be worrying people, however small. Put in place a system of regular bulletins via email or whatever communication tool is used, so that staff know when and where to find latest information. 

  • Be decisive – making decisions, especially difficult ones, is vital, as is putting in place clear guidelines to support those decisions. Don’t leave your team in any doubt about what they are excepted to do, as this will only serve to increase their anxieties. Try not to make knee jerk decisions but take time to think through the best course of action. And understand that a decision today may be completely turned on its head tomorrow, as the situation unfolds.

  • Make sure informal communication channels are in place – at THINK, I’ve seen an upsurge in the traffic on our team Whats App group, both work related but also sharing stories and humorous things to raise a smile in these difficult times. Make sure teams are empowered to use these – this isn’t time wasting, but a key way of keeping individuals connected and giving them the social interaction they need.

  • Undertake financial modelling – we know that teams are being asked to assess and reassess the impact of coronavirus on likely income. Depending on your income mix, this has different degrees of complexity. It’s easy to remove the income connected to events, face to face recruitment and some volunteer led fundraising. But supporters can be ingenious and so may find new ways to fundraise! We recommend taking a scenario planning approach, modelling three different outcomes across each area of your fundraising portfolio – best, medium, worst – and then aggregating these to give an overall picture. Agree with your chief executive and finance director how often you will update these. We need to see some trends across the sector, so resist the pressure to update too frequently.

  • Provide structure for individuals working at home – working at home every day is very different from working at home occasionally and for many of your team members this will be a brand-new experience. A day structured by travel, meetings and the general flow of the office is now replaced by something totally different. Encourage managers to put in place actions such as virtual meetings to just catch up and undertake routine office social activities such as birthday cake eating! Make sure meetings to keep projects moving forward are not lost but delivered  through digital communication channels. Every charity will have its preferred system, THINK uses Zoom which we find very effective. 

  • Keep morale up – a large part of your role as a leader during these unprecedented times should be dedicated to keeping team morale up. Make sure you are in regular contact with staff and they know you are available for a chat. Keep an eye out for individuals who are showing signs of struggling to cope and give them some focused attention and coaching.

  • Develop a view on what business as usual (BAU) now looks like – we are likely to be in the grip of coronavirus for many weeks, and so we need to prepare for the long haul get ourselves and our teams into a new BAU mode. Develop a view on what this looks like, what the priorities are for your team and what you can focus team members on if their usual day to day activities are curtailed. We all have a list of the items that never make it to top priority – this could be their time in the sun!

And finally, leaders must hold their nerve and keep sight of the fact that this situation will pass in time. We may well emerge a more compassionate and thoughtful society which will serve charities well in the long term.

Still to come are our thoughts on how best to mitigate the impact on community fundraising and individual giving and our top tips on working from home. We hope you are finding this series of blogs useful and we’d love to hear how your charity is getting on.

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Michelle Chambers is Managing Director at THINK Consulting Solutions

See this page for all the latest information for fundraisers about the coronavirus outbreak from the Institute of Fundraising. It will be kept updated.


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