8 Characteristics of NPO crisis adaptation

Neil Hart – April 2020

Four weeks ago my team and I began to research how the Covid-19 crisis was affecting social development NPOs and ministries. It was still early stages for Africa, although the East and Europe had been hard hit. Our aim was to prepare ourselves to know how to best respond in our capacity as a Foundation that resources ministries and NPOs.

The current times are all about adapting to change and employing the very best strategies to solve social crises. I have captured eight important characteristics that I have noticed from our observations. I hope they will assist you to navigate well through these stormy seas.

1. Run towards the crisis.

In 2014 when Ebola broke out in West Africa, New Harvest (one of our partners) was one of the best responders to the crisis, and this has prepared them well for today’s realities. Their approach is simple and profound and many organisations worldwide have been learning from them:

    • Get there early – move towards trouble, not away from it.
    • Intentionally work in phases towards movement: serve, stabilise, catalyse, coach, reproduce and cooperate.
    • Join efforts with government, other faiths or persuasions to work for the common good.
    • Fill the gaps: Do what others can’t or won’t. During the Ebola crisis, this included delivering food, supplying masks, gowns, gloves, buckets and bleach to rural areas the government couldn’t go. Even transporting the sick and burying the dead (several of their own people died as a result of these acts of service).

2. Absolutely everything online

The crisis is forcing NPOs and ministries online like never before. In the Middle East, refugee work has always been a face to face activity. Horizons Lebanon have a core focus to mobilise and assist efforts to reach out to refugee communities within the region. Previously, most of the activities of the organisation and partnerships have been through events and gatherings, at centres and home visits. With the start of social isolation restrictions, the Horizons team immediately shifted their focus to media and digital platforms and have actually seen an increase in response rates. They have established online follow-up services to continue relationships with those who are responding to the messages which are being broadcast.

Global Leadership Academy, like many other education organisations, is pushing hard to get their distance learning platform in place in order to continue with the education of their learners, but also to serve other schools. This could be a defining moment within the Education space where educators lead the way in online innovation.

3. Needs grow, capacity shrinks

Covid-19 is not only a medical crisis, it is also a financial crisis. A medical crisis alone would have meant a massive growth in needs and a stretch for those organisations working to support the needs. But this is also a financial crisis. As a result, there are two opposing forces at work simultaneously: as needs are stretching, financial capacity is shrinking.

4. The heroes are on the streets

Whilst most organisation are tied up in a struggle for survival, MES (Mold, Empower, Serve) has for example, stepped up their game to reach out to street people. These are the most vulnerable and most forgotten of our society, but MES has been a strong voice to make the public aware of their need for shelter, basic needs and services. Their courage to continue serving despite exposing themselves to possible infection is indeed a shining light and is definitely giving directions in terms of vulnerable care in times of crisis.

The real heroes are still at work amidst the chaos. They often have no masks or gloves and have limited funds. Putting aside their own needs, they continue to serve. We would do well to give more to their efforts at this time.

The Mergon Foundation currently partners with several NPOs who serve the homeless, poor, vulnerable and orphans. We have created a GAP Fund to assist more funding to be directed to their needs at this time.

5. Make the Pivot

Everyone has had to pivot. Absolutely everyone. The Covid-19 crisis has pushed many organisations into unprecedented innovation, responsiveness and imagination. Pivoting any organisation, even in stable times, can be very tricky. Most organisations are change averse and creativity is often lacking to inspire clear and compelling change.

Campus Crusade, a 70 year old organisation, has developed a digital response strategy that is now being adopted across the globe. In partnership with the Jesus Film Project, they plan to reach 500 universities and campus locations in 24 countries within southern and eastern Africa with the gospel, using the Jesus Film and other digital tools and products. The goal is to reach a minimum of 5 million students and communities. An incredible adaption to unique circumstances.

What we have seen time and again over the past few weeks is that the pressure of the times has led to an emergence of new and unique thinking. It’s as if in this moment of difficultly we are finding a beautiful clarity that is enabling change and inspiring staff in organisations to be highly adaptable. Somehow we are moving between the beautiful dance steps of resilience, return, re-imagination and reform.

6. Everything at home

With families spending more time at home than ever before, many NPOs have redirected activities towards this new frontier. Several global movements are working together in partnerships and have developed a digital “family fitness” programmes that will help families stay active, and engage in spiritual activity together. The Sports Movement is also exploring eSport (internet gaming) as a viable ministry activity. Their aim is to encourage people towards healthy bodies and healthy spiritual lives at this time.

7. Funder flexibility

I have had many conversations with funders and givers around the world in the past two weeks. Some have been severely affected by the stock market fluidity and one would expect an inward focus at this time. But that is not the common response. Philanthropists and support bodies are looking for ways to increase their giving at this time. Many are also rethinking how to organise their funding within this new reality. Several ‘crisis funds’ have also been established where pooled funds are achieving greater impact through focus and the discerning selection of social impact organisations.

8. Collaboration is the new black

Collaboration has always been important, now it’s also fashionable. More than that, it is the future. You might have noticed how, over the past 5 years, many best selling business, spiritual and psychology books speak about ditching the ego. The trend has been coming for some time. It’s time to lay aside personal glory goals to take hands and make things happen for the good of all. Our research shows how NPOs are tapping into existing partnerships, quickly identifying each other’s strengths to overcome obstacles. The best organisations are both agile AND humble and making an impact through sharing and utilising the talents of others.

With vast changes and uncertainty, we need to focus our attention on the incredible good that is happening in the world right now. It’s like a parallel force moving quietly alongside the Coronavirus crisis. My experience tells me that this is a more powerful force that will eventually overcome our present difficulties.

Maybe you have an example of a ‘shining light’ that you could share with me so that we could learn from it? If so, please email me on neil@mergon.co.za

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2 Replies to “8 Characteristics of NPO crisis adaptation”

  1. Hi Neil . I got to your website through looking at SACD site. Im currently doing a course called Halftime . I also have watched all the crazy things happening right now.
    I just want to commend you for what you guys are doing its Wow . I know you are blessed here and in heaven .
    Iv run a website or online store for just over year now , so if you have anything eg link i can put on let me know.
    Be blessed
    Regards
    Andre’

  2. Thank you Neil for encouraging us in this positive way! It means a lot and so we can learn from each other and strengthen each other.
    Be blessed and keep up the good work! We help our little light shine by trying to support 52 matrics in the Helderberg area with electronic devices, so that they can finish their Gr 12. (Our children are so privileged, and then you have those who cannot even make use of the online school platforms and activities, because they have no basic equipment.)
    Shalom!

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