Rebuilding stronger in a crisis.

Five projects to strengthen your infrastructure for long-term stability and resilience

Portrait of Kathleen Souder, Mighty Ally Co-founder

KATHLEEN SOUDER

Hopefully you’re among the lucky ones. Despite the struggles and shifts, you’ve weathered the initial pandemic shock.

And you know your organization will likely make it to the other side, however battle-scarred and tested.

You might find yourself now in a period of relative calm. A state of suspension or a moment of pause. Waiting for the time when borders are open, school is in session, and field offices are full once again. When you can restart your core programming – driving impact and finding your new normal.

How do you use this downtime well? What can your organization do now to emerge as strong and as healthy as possible? To ensure ongoing durability? And fortitude for what might be a higher hill and tougher climb, in a post-pandemic world?

A new deal.

A century ago, the Great Depression decimated worldwide economies and pitched millions of people into uncertainty and unemployment. As a part of the New Deal, the U.S. government invested in a number of forward-looking infrastructure projects. Initiatives like the Public Works Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps laid asphalt, dug tunnels, designed water systems, planted trees, and carved out trails.

The New Deal anticipated emergence, setting the stage for long-term stability and growth. And the investment – resulting in outputs like the Tennessee Valley Authority, Hoover Dam, LaGuardia Airport, and Everglades National Park – still pays dividends today.

So what’s your new deal? When you’re safely on the other side of this crisis, what foundational effort will you be able to point to?

Here are five projects focused on organizational health and resilience. Undertakings to fortify you now, so you can weather the current and future crises stronger and healthier.

1. Build internal communication highways

We’ve heard it over and over during this crisis: “How should we be communicating with our team? And what should we be saying?” An unsurprising challenge of today, given that internal communication breakdowns and logjams are all too common among clients.

If you want your team to work together seamlessly and efficiently, pave pathways of open communication. Ones that cross countries, continents, and cultures. You might choose to send a weekly CEO email that uses a standard template. Or maybe what’s needed is a team WhatsApp group giving employees an open platform to ask and answer questions – so information can flow up, down, and sideways.

Regardless of tactic, err on the side of over-communication. And remember that seven is the average number of times people need to hear a message to make it stick. So communicate that clarity again and again.

How to start

  • Send a Friday note, communicating wins, losses, questions, and priorities. Create a standard template and stick to it – filling in the details week after week.

  • Establish a founder’s forum. Open office hours that your entire team can utilize for individual communication with you.

  • Proactively schedule one-on-one meetings with everyone on your team, instead of waiting for them to come to you.

2. Establish meeting rhythms

It’s a familiar refrain: “We have no time to meet. We’re too busy working.” To which we say: as leaders, the most important thing you can do is meet. Because that’s when you make decisions, solve problems, and set direction. So do it. Regularly and consistently. As a full leadership team.

And if you’re meeting but it still feels like a waste of time, then it’s probably time to re-think your agenda. Give your team time and space to debate important decisions and have challenging conversations.

How to start

  • Meet weekly with your senior management team. And follow these five rules: 1. Same day 2. Same time 3. Same agenda 4. Start on time 5. End on time.

  • Scan your organizational calendar with a critical eye, combining and condensing meetings where possible.

  • Institute a new rule: ad hoc meetings can’t be called unless the invite includes a meeting purpose, prep materials for attendees, and a proposed agenda.

3. Revamp your systems

If you’ve been wrestling with an outdated CRM, paying too much for your donation platform, or still using the email service that was hot in 2013 – now might be the time to update. Or perhaps you’ve been wanting to onboard a new productivity tool, having bookmarked Slack or Trello to look into on a rainy day.

Replacing a legacy system is no small job. Sticking with the system status quo might feel like less of a headache. And there’s the question of the time, energy, and financial investment made to date. But throwing good money after bad isn’t smart at any time, much less during a period where resources are ever tighter. Plus now’s the time to renegotiate. You might have leverage previously unavailable, when times were flush for technology providers.

How to start

  • Collaborate with your team to evaluate your current systems using a Four Helpful List (right/wrong/missing/confused) framework to codify and clarify where and how to update.

  • Leverage resources like Taproot, Super Global, and Tech4Dev to find experts if a system overhaul feels out of your comfort zone.

  • Pull together a requirements brief: a list of goals, needs, and nice-to-haves that can inform system selection and setup.

4. Activate mentors & advisors

There’s nothing like a global lockdown to make you appreciate the importance of a supportive social network. So now’s the time to build, strengthen, or even prune away those connections.

Candidly evaluate your relationships with mentors, advisors, board members, directors, and trustees. For those that fall into the ‘supportive and effective’ column, find ways to (virtually) connect and communicate. For the ones you may have outgrown – craft a transition plan for eventual separation.

Don’t forget about your team either. What can you do to set up positive relationships for them? What connections can you make? Find ways to establish internal mentorships for junior team members or anyone who might benefit from additional support. Encourage colleagues’ participation in professional development activities or groups.

How to start

  • Communicate out, to get feedback in: send a monthly email to your board and other mentors that highlights Successes, Challenges, and Help Needed.

  • Use a model like the McKinsey Nonprofit Board Assessment Tool to more formally evaluate your board or advisors’ performance.

  • Consider partnering with organizations like Rippleworks and MovingWorlds to connect with relevant experts.

5. Invest in yourself

You’ve heard it before: leaders need to put on their own oxygen mask first. And self-leadership is the new self-care. You might think you’re the exception to the rule, but you’re not. If there are any bright sides to this crisis, it’s found in cleaner air, returning wildlife, and extra time for social venture leaders to devote to self-care.

Only you know what you need. Meditation, leadership coaching, time spent outside, therapy, sleep, exercise, days off. Whatever it is, take intentional time to do it. Because we’re emerging into a world with increased inequality, more extreme poverty, and new challenges to solve. And we need leaders with all the energy they can muster in the fight to rebuild.

How to start

  • Get to know your own strengths and weaknesses using tools like DISC, StrengthsFinder, or Enneagram typing.

  • Apply to those fellowships you’ve never had time for.

  • Combine physical activity with leadership fitness by listening to podcasts. Some favorites that meld personal growth with leadership include How’s Work, Reboot, and Rad Awakenings.

Ready for the future.

There’s no way to predict what will happen tomorrow, much less in the months to come. But if you have the ability to invest now in your organizational infrastructure, you could reap dividends for years to come. And with global poverty predicted to rise, and a new host of problems sparked by this crisis, strong organizations delivering real impact are needed more than ever.

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