ARTICLE • 5 min

How nonprofits can build resilience in the face of adversity

COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the nonprofit sector, but despite the adversity and challenges it brings, there are opportunities to be sought. This article discusses some of the ways in which nonprofits can increase their organization’s resilience and manoeuvre themselves into a stronger position in a post-pandemic world. 


What is resilience, and why is it important? 


An organization’s resilience is its ability to avoid, absorb, respond to, and recover from adverse situations that may or may not be in their control. Being resilience increases the organization’s chances of not just surviving, but thriving. There are a number of practical ways that nonprofit organizations can increase their resilience. 


Firstly, being resilient depends on an organization having a strong identity and clear goals. What an organization values and stands for is critical to determining its success. Organizations with clear missions are the most likely to engage communities and attract funders with their passion and commitment to serving and bettering their communities. 


Secondly, it is crucial for nonprofit organizations to cultivate strong and collaborative relationships with the communities that they serve. Organizations that have earned the trust of their service users, and have good standing within their communities, are more likely to survive and thrive. Relationships with funders and other nonprofit / partner organizations are also important so that an enhanced collective impact can be achieved. 


Engendering trust and creating lasting partnerships is a process that emerges through interpersonal interactions. While COVID-19 has made direct, face-to-face interactions difficult, there are many other ways to maintain relationships such as regular communications, video calls, transparency of organization activities through social media and newsletters. 


Thirdly, organizations may leverage the challenges that COVID-19 has presented by reviewing their current technology and processes. Forging technological advancements and a stronger online identity can not only bring remote teams closer, but also help nonprofits work more efficiently with their service users and broader communities during COVID-19. McKinsey estimates that COVID-19 has had positive transformational effects on organizations by pushing the adoption of new digital technologies ahead of its time. Perhaps in order to build resilience in the face of a global pandemic, a great place to start is being open to change. 


Lastly, nonprofits may wish to take this time to re-examine their culture and organizational structure. Resilient organizations that are able to stay ahead of the curve, anticipate and adapt to change, do so through open and trusting environments. It may be challenging to foster culture in a world of remote working, so it is paramount that organizations design regular online meetings in addition to regular in-person catch-ups, meetings, and informal activities like lunches. Giving employees a safe forum to share their ideas and drive initiatives forward, is also a great place to build culture and trust. 


In essence, the way forward to building resilience is to be adaptive rather than reactive. To see the silver linings and new opportunities when they present themselves, organizations can commit to embracing change rather than being stuck in the old and safe way of doing things. Above all, embracing change means having to assess and evaluate whether new initiatives are having an impact. 

Dr Clara Ong
Cofounder and Social Impact Expert @ Socialsuite
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