Updated: Jan 13
It has been inspiring to see so many companies take authentic and strategic approaches to supporting community partners during this crisis. Here are five things that you can do right now to make an impact.
The amount of information being disseminated regarding the impacts of the COVID 19 virus is overwhelming. Businesses of all sizes and across all industries are dealing with challenges on multiple fronts. From taking care of employees and customers, to pivoting to a remote work environment, to managing cash flow and plummeting stock prices, leaders are faced with one tough decision after another. Amidst this firestorm, it has been inspiring to see so many companies take authentic and strategic approaches to supporting community partners during this crisis. Here are five things that leading companies are doing and that others can learn from:
1) Communicating directly with existing partners. We are being inundated with social media stories, posts, ads and campaigns about who needs the most help and where to give. Ignoring that “noise” and contacting current community partners directly to find out their greatest needs is much more efficient and effective. Funding is a priority, and partners can tell you what they need and how it will make an impact immediately. In addition, they can tell you if they have non-financial needs such as “virtual volunteers”, or business expertise such as IT support to help transition to a remote workforce, or HR guidance on how to handle lay-offs or furloughs. They can also honestly tell you what they don’t need – used in-kind donations that could be contaminated, new in-kind donations when there are no staff or volunteers available to sort and distribute them (you get the idea).
2) Being flexible with existing funding. Managing cash flow and covering general operating costs is going to be challenging for even the most stable nonprofit organizations during this time. Removing restrictions from previous gifts and allowing partners to use funds that were given for specific projects to be used where they are now needed most will have the greatest impact and help organizations survive the crisis.
3) Joining collective efforts. Many communities quickly established COVID 19 Relief Funds at community foundations, United Ways or other organizations to provide one place where individuals, businesses and foundations can contribute and pool their resources to support the community’s ongoing needs related to COVID 19. Leaders of these funds will establish criteria and processes for distributing grants to address the community’s greatest needs as things continue to develop. Contributing to these funds allows businesses with smaller budgets to be a part of a larger effort that will have greater impact, and removes the burden of vetting organizations and deciding where to give when they don’t have the expertise or staff capacity to do that work. These funds allow larger companies to make one significant gift in target communities rather than trying to manage multiple small gifts in multiple communities.
4) Thinking creatively about how unused assets can be put to work. With mandated remote work and restaurant and retail closures in effect in many cities, companies have considerable assets that aren’t being utilized for business purposes. Businesses in multiple industries have gotten creative on how to put these resources to work to aid in the response. From distilleries making hand sanitizer using alcohol waste (to be given away), to corporate cafeterias being turned over to meal-prep and delivery services for the elderly and chronically ill, to transportation companies using their planes and trucks to deploy medical supplies in the hardest-hit areas, businesses are leveraging their resources to fill critical gaps in the response.
5) Providing thoughtful ways for employees to help (or not). Employee engagement is a cornerstone of corporate social responsibility programs. Companies regularly “rally” employees to donate, fundraise and volunteer for causes. Asking employees to give and volunteer for the COVID 19 response is tricky. Many industries are being decimated and employees are being laid-off or having their hours reduced. Others are considered essential services and their employees are working around the clock with minimal time-off and increased risk of exposure to the virus. Other employees are adjusting to being full-time remote workers while attempting to home-school their children and not run out of toilet paper. Messaging about giving and volunteering amid all this could easily become tone-deaf. The companies that have gotten it right have been thoughtful about the tone of messages (no peer pressure or “competition”) and have framed giving opportunities as an option that is easy if employees want to help but don’t know how. Other examples are companies allowing interested employees to complete virtual volunteer projects for nonprofit partners on company time, and those who are utilizing company assets in creative ways and deploying employees to help with those efforts (see #4). Others are acknowledging the challenges and stress that employees are facing and want employees to take care of themselves first. They are providing resources such as online K-12 educational programs and guides from community partners, mental health and stress management tools that are available through their EAPs, and fitness and nutrition resources from their wellness programs and community partners.