Covid-19: Lessons in crisis management from the non-profit sector

The non-profit sector, used to an environment of uncertainty and resource scarcity, firefighting and dealing with crisis in complex ecosystems, has four key takeaways for this period

Updated: Jun 19, 2020 12:55:16 PM UTC
Image: Shutterstock

There are always two sides to a story.

There is no doubt that we are tackling an unprecedented crisis, where the world will see a significant setback on socio-economic development outcomes. However, optimists like us are seeing communities stepping up to fight this humanitarian crisis, where billions are being raised for relief at a short notice. As we recalibrate priorities and resources as a nation, it is critical to harness this compassion-driven momentum for creating significant impact. Non-profit sector leaders, always used to an environment of uncertainty and resource scarcity, firefighting and dealing with crisis in complex ecosystems on a regular basis, are offering all of us insights that can be leveraged by their for profit peers.

At Dasra, we have adopted a multi-pronged approach to leverage our resources and engage effectively with funders, non-profit organisations and peers. Here are the top lessons in crisis management from our early assessments.

Maintain high empathy and transparency Non-profits are ensuring safety and well-being of employees, even during these uncertain times with transparency, while keeping them motivated towards the mission of the organisation. Non-profit sector leaders are co-opting senior management teams instead of dealing with everything on their own. They are enabling new channels of communication within the organisation through one to one sessions/ informal connects/ town halls to boost employee morale. Many leading non-profits are encouraging employees to prioritise personal and family concerns by enabling flexibility of time and work for in the present culture of work from home.

Convert the lemon to the lemonade
Re-invent to create greater impact. Key players are collaborating and coming together in a coordinated effort, following a call to action from the government, which is helping achieve high resiliency in the sector. As the sector is supporting vulnerable communities with Covid-19 relief, funders and non-profit organisations are actively collaborating, evaluating costs and identifying adjacencies with their core thematic focus to adopt systemic approaches.

For instance, an Indian philanthropic initiative has redirected their focus from education to providing basic necessities and investing in strengthening the healthcare system in the short term, while actively collaborating with the government to ensure last mile delivery. A community-based non-profit organisation has been able to integrate programmes at an expedited pace during the pandemic. The organisation is using technology to bring its varied programs ranging from nutrition to mental health on a common digital platform.

Financial planning as core strategy
Non-profit leaders are increasingly donning a CFO hat and keeping financial planning at the centre of their strategy even though this may not always have been a part of their DNA. Leaders are identifying costs that can be repurposed and renegotiated to induce operational efficiencies. In scenarios where the organisations have sufficient finances for the present year, they are actively building their pipeline and adjusting budgets and expenditures to plan better for the next couple of years. A non-profit leader acknowledged that, “It is important for us non-profit organisations to stretch our budgets beyond 12-18 months. We can be in trouble if we don’t do so.” Indian foundations are also stepping up with having board members personally support portfolio organisations with scenario planning and financial advisory during this period.

Build trust, especially in your most vulnerable stakeholder groups
In this journey of reinventing impact, organisations are trying to remain committed to vulnerable communities without being mission adrift. Organisations are identifying aspects of their existing programme that can be accomplished through remote mediums. Take the example of a non-profit working to support women micro-entrepreneurs, which has developed a business continuity plan for the ones who are already trained. To enable incomes, they are enabling women producers to work from home, creating items of critical need such as machining face masks, liquid soaps and sanitisers. In only the second month of production, they have been able to procure orders worth Rs 5 lakh+. This has helped them in optimising impact while also providing long-term income security to the women.

Additionally, organisations providing psycho-social support via phone lines have created dedicated Covid-19 mental health helpline channels, which are seeing an increased traction in calls received. One helpline reported a 30 percent spike on an existing channel.


In this momentous period, the non-profit sector has an opportunity to be at the forefront of rebuilding the economy and social capital.

The writer is director for capacity building and expertise at Dasra

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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