Hamline News

Nonprofit Organizations Have a Role in Our Future

Hamline School of Business’s Jeannie Fox is a Professor of Practice and the Program Director for the Master of Nonprofit Management program. The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting all aspects of life now and will bring lasting change into the future. Fox offered a quick take on what nonprofit professionals can expect moving forward.

What are you teaching?
I am currently teaching a graduate-level course, aptly titled, "The Role of Nonprofits in Society". I say that because it is exactly at times like these when nonprofits really step up to fill the gaps left by the government or the private market. The pandemic has provided additional material for us to analyze in real-time, and most of my students are working in nonprofits attempting to deliver services in this restrictive environment.

What insights do you for nonprofit executives at this time?
If you’re a nonprofit executive, you want to be in Minnesota! We have an unusual collection of “infrastructure” groups that exist here to support the work of nonprofits on the ground. I’m thinking of the MN Council of Nonprofits, Council on Foundations, Propel Nonprofits, Charities Review Council and others who quickly shifted their daily operations to do what they do best – support nonprofits. They have done this by creating centers of technical expertise on managing through COVID-19 and creating pooled funds for immediate disbursement and advocating that nonprofits be included in the small business loans made available by the federal government. These actions are helping service-delivery nonprofits to keep focusing on meeting the needs of their communities. Now, having said that, we know the scale of this pandemic means just like restaurants and other businesses, some organizations might not have the reserves or be able to act quickly enough to shift gears to weather out this challenge. We do not know what it looks like yet, but the landscape is going to be quite different moving forward, even as we plan to “re-enter” society, so to speak.

Are there opportunities for nonprofit organizations? If so, what?
Yes, any crisis brings about an opportunity as well. Thinking you’ve been needing to right-size your organization? Now is the time to do it. Is the three-year strategic plan sitting on the shelf? Now is the time to make a three-month plan and do some scenario planning. Stay tuned to the organizations that I mentioned earlier who are watching out for you and who are poring through thousands of pages of public health, financing and public policy information to get you the important information you need to know right now. Use your board of directors. This is a time for leadership to step up and make tough decisions. Executive directors need not be flying solo; their boards have a legal and fiduciary obligation to provide governance to the organization, including layoffs or even dissolution if needed.

What should nonprofit leaders keep in mind as we move through this new existence?
I would tell them, this is your history, this is in your DNA, and these are the moments you have been training for all your life. In "The Role of Nonprofits in Society", we examine the history and origins of the nonprofit sector, which by the way, precedes even the forming of our nation. We walk through all the movements (clean air, clean water, civil rights, human rights, voting rights, etc.) for which nonprofits have been the vehicle for ordinary citizens to make positive changes in society. We look at the historical partnerships, particularly government-nonprofit collaboration, that allows these institutions to leverage their resources and expertise to protect and promote our individual qualities of life. And, most importantly, through it all, over time, the sector shows remarkable resilience. This is what we do.

Email interview. All answers by Fox which were lightly edited by staff