Coronavirus as a Board Governance Concern

UPDATE: 4 cases are pending confirmation in Montana as of March 14, 2020.

COVID-19, the novel Coronavirus spreading across the nation and world, has yet to have resulted in a confirmed case in Montana as of this posting (March 12, 2020). But most likely it is here already — we just don’t have the testing kits available yet to find it. We are too close to Washington State, where reported infections and deaths are increasing daily, with too much traffic back and forth between our states, for this disease to not be here already.

Remember, the work of the board is to govern, provide oversight to staff, manage risks and liabilities, ensure the interests of the organization, and ensure that its clients, employees, volunteer are safe and effective. I cannot imagine a better example of a governance responsibility than ensuring an adequate response to this pandemic within our nonprofits.

This virus and its economic effects will affect nonprofits, just as it will other parts of our community. Now is the time for the board and staff to prepare. Below are a few starting questions that might prompt discussion and planning in the board room (or better yet – online meeting or conference call, as social distancing becomes the hot new thing!). This list is not exhaustive but I hope there are some useful considerations for the nonprofit you serve:

  1. How prepared are we if there is a positive test of one of our staff, volunteers or clients?
  2. Have we implemented policies, procedures and training to contain the spread of the virus within our work sites, client services locations, waiting rooms, etc.? For example, can we all please stop shaking hands and do the elbow bump instead?
  3. Do we have the option for working from home? Can we meet virtually, remotely access files, take calls, answer voicemails, etc.?
  4. How does our sick leave or personal time off policy work, if a staff member is absent due to their own illness, or that of a family member?
  5. Do we have a solid “in case of emergency” plan if there is an extended absence of our executive director or other key staff? Can we continue operations both on-site and remotely if needed?
  6. Should we consider shifting our board and committee meetings to online (like Skype, Zoom, GoToMeeting) or conference call? I recommend YES as a precaution – especially if you have people who are in vulnerable categories like age 60+ or those with compromised immune systems.
  7. What kinds of exposures are inherent in our program activities, events, day-to-day office traffic, etc.? What should we consider limiting, postponing, or cancelling? For example – a hands on arts center with shared tools, surfaces and materials might consider a stepped-up disinfection schedule, or even closing down for a period of time.
  8. Do we have any fundraising gatherings, performances or outreach events we should consider cancelling? Is there an online option that could replace some of those efforts – a virtual event, or crowdsource online replacement?
  9. If the economic fallout of this pandemic is widespread, how might it affect our finances? Do we have reserves, or options for emergency funding of some kind?
  10. What are unique things we can do in this time? Is there anything we can do to safely serve our clients and community, as their needs evolve through this pandemic? What strengths do we have as an organization that will help us through this time?

Coincidentally, as I was getting ready to finalize this post, I found out that Montana Nonprofit Association posted a new resource page about COVID 19: Be sure to read the message at the bottom from Executive Director Liz Moore — we are lucky to have their leadership in this state! (And I promise we didn’t plagiarize from each other — just a matter of great minds thinking alike!)

Here are some helpful tips on containment (see the helpful graphics in the slideshow)

Nonprofit Quarterly examines the early costs of Coronavirus for nonprofits

And the brilliant Vu Le’s blog from the front lines with thoughts for foundations and nonprofit leaders.

Add your thoughts, resources, suggested questions in the comments section below. And stay healthy! We can make it through this together.