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When to “Return”: Questions Nonprofit Executives Need to Think About

Posted by Lindsay Tallman on May 5, 2020 10:57:16 AM

Open for Business SignRight now, state and local governments across the country have started to consider re-opening certain businesses and, what a phased re-entry might look like. As a nonprofit leader, you may be wondering what this process will look like for your organization and how you will know when it is the right time for you to return to a physical work space. During a global crisis like this, when there are so many variables at play, it’s difficult to plan for the future when we don’t know what the next week or month will look like. All nonprofit CEO’s and executive directors are working hard to make the best decisions they can for their organizations — this is not an easy task.

A decision like this demands careful strategy and reflection; CEO’s will need to consider the short term and long term effects of re-opening. In some cases, that will be a shared decision between boards and executives, particularly as it relates to reopening public programming spaces that are “non-essential” in nature. In many other cases, though, it will be an executive-level decision, of which the board simply needs to be informed.

In response to the questions we have been receiving from boards and executives alike — acknowledging that this is not an area of specific expertise for us — we worked to identify some resources and guiding thoughts that may be helpful to nonprofit leaders. As CEO’s develop a road-map to reopening, we suggest considering the following questions in order to make the most informed decision you can:

Are we following state and local laws, and health guidelines from experts?

Before you can consider the possibility of reopening, state and local governments will need to clear businesses for operation. But it’s not just about following the law; it’s about ensuring that you are prioritizing the safety and wellbeing of staff, stakeholders, volunteers, and members. Public health experts advise that some states will recover sooner than others. This New York Times article provides benchmarks from experts that can help determine which health milestones cities will need to pass, in order to consider reopening.

How can we help protect and accommodate staff?

What policies will you have in place if you were to reopen? These might look similar to the policies at the beginning of the outbreak, and include things like requirements for employees to stay home if they are sick, and maintaining a clean work environment. While thinking about this, take a look at this resource from OSHA, which provides recommended guidance for employers. The CDC has also provided guidance on proper cleaning procedures in an office setting and in community spaces, as well as an outline of conditions that may leave some staff at greater risk, based on current knowledge of the disease.

Here  are a few other things you should be sure to take into consideration:

  • The status of local schools. This will impact the ability of staff with children to return to work.
  • The availability and safety of public transportation will impact some staff members’ ability to return to work.
  • Whether or not to continue travel limitations, even if staff are back in the office.

Do we understand the legal and liability implications of opening our offices or community space?

Nonprofits should consider consulting with an attorney and their insurance provider to make sure that they have a full understanding of the risks associated with reopening to staff, stakeholders, volunteers, and members. Many organizations have been advised that existing policies do not cover circumstances related to an infectious disease or pandemic, which brings with it additional risks and liabilities that need to be fully understood.

For many nonprofit organizations, deciding when and how to reopen your organization’s space to employees or the public will be complex and nuanced. While in many organizations, this will be a CEO-led decision-making process, boards need to be ready and willing to serve as a sounding board to the CEO if needed. They also need to be ask good questions about how the CEO is weighing the need to resume programming and operations with the need to protect the safety and well-being of all who engage with their organization.  

Additional Resources:

Topics: Risk Management, COVID-19


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