We are all navigating unchartered territory as COVID-19 spreads across the world. Jessie Ballantyne considers the implications and shares some really good advice.

COVID-19We are in unprecedented times.

Never before have we seen a virus like COVID-19 spread so quickly, with such devastating impact, across the globe. The situation is changing constantly. We’re having to adapt and respond more quickly than ever before.

The virus and its impact is affecting every sector, not just those who have been instructed to close. It will, or at least should, affect every person in Australia through the way we interact with each other. It is affecting the not-for-profit sector, and all the individuals the sector supports. It is having a practical and emotional impact on funding seekers and funding providers alike.

I have spoken with people on both sides of funding (seekers and providers) over the past week, and it’s tough for everyone. CEOs are going home in tears, the unknown is stressful and scary, and the impact is very real. On the back of the bushfires, this is about the last thing Australia needed.

So where does that leave us with funding and grants?

I’m not going to sugar coat this: we’re in unknown territory. We don’t know the health impacts, economic impacts, social impacts or funding impacts. We don’t know how long this will last, or how long it will take to recover. But we’re not helpless in this. If we want our organisations to survive, we cannot afford to sit back, watch and wait.

We need to focus on what we do know:

  • The health and social need is going to be huge, which means we need a lot of funding to support NFPs and the people they help now, and in the future.
  • The economic impact is going to be deep, which means funding providers will look at their capacity to keep giving. Some genuinely won’t be able to give, others will need to consider where giving lies in their business and organisational values.
  • The impacts from this are going to last for a long time. Businesses will not recover overnight. People’s fear will not dissipate as soon as lockdowns are lifted. NFPs will take time to get back on their feet and re-plan events that have been cancelled, re-start capital works programs that have been suspended, build up sponsorship, and re-engage members.

If you’re not a natural problem-solver, you need to switch to problem-solving, solution-based thinking. For some of you, this is going to be hard. But you can do it. Do you know why? Because this is about working together, not alone.

If you’re an organisation or business, this is your chance to:

  • Work together as a team. I am not a fan of hierarchical structures, but for the sake of clarity, you should be providing easy opportunities for the ‘highest’ in your team to the ‘lowest’ to share their ideas. Start a Slack channel, create a Trello board, sign up to Asana, create a Google spreadsheet. Whatever your organisation uses instead of face-to-face meetings and workshops, now is the time to use those tools to your advantage.
  • Think outside of the box. If people are no longer coming to you, change how you do things. Don’t sit in an empty building waiting for things to change. People will come back eventually if you’re still operating, but this situation is not likely to change in the short term. Here are some ideas for the kind of problem-solving, solution-based thinking I’m talking about:
    • If you run workshops, sign up to Zoom, Hangouts or Slack and learn how to run a video conference. These apps all have free versions. People are working from home, they’re not on holiday. They still want and need to learn. They also still want to connect with groups they’re a part of. Help people be socially distant but relationally connected.
    • If you’re a church or religious organisation, checkout what Crossway is doing. As one of the biggest churches in Australia, Crossway is now live-streaming each week.
    • If you sell products and don’t have an online store, set one up. This goes for NFPs and businesses alike. Get your social media pages set up and be present. Social distancing means people will be spending a lot of time online. Help them engage with you. Help them buy from you. This is your new store-front.
  • Break the mould. With so many people working from home, it’s likely people are going to experience internet connection issues. Many people also have their children at home from school, kindergarten and daycare. If you’re a manager or leader, consider whether you really need people to work standard 9-5 hours. If your team is tied up during the day with children at home or a struggling internet connection, why not let them work during the evening? My bet is people would rather work some abnormal hours at the moment rather than lose their job. Plus it means your organisation can keep operating.
  • Ask people to consider donating the cost of their ticket for a cancelled event. If you remind people of the need your organisation addresses and the difference you’re making, chances are they’ll be happy to donate the cost of any cancelled event tickets. The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra did a great job of this, by choosing to set up free live streaming of concerts, while also reminding people that they are a NFP and that it’s our chance to help ‘enrich lives through music’. Very clever!
  • Join The Grants Hub’s Slack Community. This is a free space for people to share ideas around grants and funding. Share your needs, share new grants, and let’s see what problems we can solve together. We’ve started a specific #covid-19 channel to share all things related to COVID-19 and funding. Check it out.

If you’re a funding recipient:

  • Read the grant and funding advice I shared last week. The advice covers funding agreements, reviewing project impact, working in partnership and the need for early communication between funding recipients and funding providers.
  • Come up with solutions to existing programs wherever possible. Choose to adopt problem-solving, solution-based thinking.
  • Broaden your grant search. Target funding providers who focus on innovation, technology, and community connectedness. The Grants Hub’s Grants Directory makes this very easy to do.

If you’re a funding provider:

  • Provide grants for the establishment of online courses, programs, app subscriptions and tech infrastructure. Make the application process simple, with a quick turnaround time. Organisations need this funding now.
  • Think about how you can meet your objectives to fund programs which are a little different to what you normally fund.
  • Reward applicants and existing funding recipients who are working on solutions. Work with them.
  • Consider whether your corporate volunteering program can contribute through online volunteering. Your tech team now has a whole new way to contribute their skills in the NFP sector!

Above all, remember that we WILL get through this. Some advice I was given in a health crisis a number of years ago feels particularly relevant at the moment:

  • It won’t feel like this forever.
  • Do your best to run at an 8, not a 10. If you’re running at a 10 for too long, you are left with no room for other stresses that arise. Something as small as a team member running late, a dodgy internet connection, or a red traffic light at the wrong time can push you to breaking point. Take time out for yourself, even if it’s just a five minute window. To overcome and maybe even thrive in this situation, you need to be able to think clearly now more than ever before.
  • It’s a completely underrated built-in tool available in any place, at any time.

Let’s do this F&P readers. Australia needs you, probably now more than ever.

Jessie Ballantyne is Founder and CEO of The Grants Hub

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