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  • Jessica Chen

Covid-19: Lessons in Organisational Leadership

Written by Hamish McLean

As the global pandemic settles in, we’ve all faced a dramatic life shift. For some, it has been the inconvenience of having to study from home, yet for others, it has meant the burden of being separated from family. As our institutions manage this crisis, we’ve seen a number of cross-sector challenges emerge. In the not-for-profit (NFP) space, some of these challenges have been profound: How can we continue to provide value to our beneficiaries despite the stay-at-home order? How can we shore up funding to ensure our long-term survival? As we continue to navigate through this crisis, it’s important to reflect on our response: here are three lessons in NFP leadership coming out of the Covid-19 pandemic.

1. Double down on your purpose.

With so much noise surrounding our daily lives, it’s all too easy to get distracted and lose focus. When disaster hits, our efforts need to concentrate on navigating through the uncertainty ahead. In the NFP world, this means doubling-down on your organisation’s purpose and very reason for existence. Take the time to consider two fundamental questions: what are we deeply passionate about and what would be lost if we went away today. The answer to these two questions should be used to re-base your organisation to its first principle goals. It’s important to articulate a clear direction before ensuring every facet of your impact engine works towards this purpose. Re-aligning with your overarching objective can cut out the noise around you and ensure that your organisation continues to deliver for your key constituents.

2. Have a consistent message.

We don’t need to look very far today before finding conflicting messages. As announcements and briefings are relayed, analysed and re-analysed, it is all too easy for details and particulars to get lost and misconstrued. This creates ambiguity and confusion for those who depend on your organisation and its work. Here is where leaders need to be consistent: convey a clear and simple message and create a single source of truth to fall back on. Once you’ve clarified your organisation’s purpose, it’s necessary to re-affirm this message to each of your stakeholders. Rally the troops by convincing them of your organisation’s laser-focus commitment to delivering on its aims. Articulating a consistent message can go a long way towards allaying confusion and building longer-term trust.

3. Say it straight.

Uncertainty breeds fear in even the most confident and resilient. We need not look past our supermarket shelves to see how we respond when our futures suddenly become unknown. How should our NFP leaders respond when they themselves don’t even know what next month looks like, let alone next week? Surprisingly, say just that. However, this should always be followed by a contingency plan of attack. If this happens, we will do this, if that happens, we will do that. With appropriate reassurance, our uncertainty can be morphed into certainty and we can come out as a community, closer than when we went in. We may still have some doubts, but it’s important, to be frank about what challenges the future may hold. With the right conviction, communicating a clear plan of attack can reduce any future uncertainty.

This saga is certainly not over yet and regrettably, the repercussions of which look to persist for some time after. 180 DC is currently working with clients to develop their own Covid-19 action plan and at the front of our minds is the reality that the human drama of these challenges is omnipresent within the NFP space. However, leaders are revealed in times of crisis and so we must ask ourselves: how are we going to define our leadership tenure?


Harvard Business Review. 2020. How Nonprofit Leaders Can Keep Their Organizations Afloat. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 08 August 2020].

Harvard Business Review. 2020. Reimagine Your Nonprofit to Survive the Crisis. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 08 August 2020].

McKinsey & Company. 2020. Lessons from the military for COVID-time leadership | McKinsey . [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 08 August 2020].

Pro Bono Australia. 2020. COVID-19 – Challenges facing the not-for-profit sector in Australia | PBA. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 08 August 2020].

Three Things Nonprofits Should Prioritize in the Wake of COVID-19. 2020. Three Things Nonprofits Should Prioritize in the Wake of COVID-19. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 08 August 2020].


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