Go Virtual to Improve Results During COVID-19 Emergency

Go Virtual to Improve Results During COVID-19 Emergency

These are challenging times for nonprofit and philanthropic organizations. With the COVID-19 pandemic creating serious new needs in communities across the country, organizations that were already operating at or near capacity find themselves trying to stretch their resources even further while simultaneously managing the disruptions caused by a shift to remote work, declining donations, and a volatile stock market. As a result, many organizations are struggling to meet their goals.

Those disruptions make it difficult to serve targeted populations in the way nonprofits are used to doing, but reducing outreach is not an option. Doing so hurts an organization's ability to serve its community when needs are greatest, and it will force them to play catch-up instead of hitting the ground running when giving season arrives in October. In such an environment, what nonprofits need is a way to recapture some of the time they've lost while also protecting the health of their employees.

A virtual road to improved results

There is a solution, and it involves moving things online. In this time of social distancing, virtual meetings have grown increasingly popular, with everything from happy hours to game nights to twelve-step meetings going virtual. And because people are more comfortable than ever with the idea of connecting online, this is the perfect time to invest in virtual training and coaching to improve your processes and get results.

Training and coaching work together to help organizations build the muscle they need to create meaningful change. Training is the foundational part of the equation, with the trainer helping an organization create a culture of improvement that helps employees understand how to reinvent processes to make them more efficient. And coaching builds on that foundation by helping organizations look at a specific problem in new ways and make changes that enable them to deliver grant checks or services in much less time.

In fact, effective virtual coaching can help employees recapture between 30 percent and 60 percent of their time — in our experience, anywhere from 500 to 1,500 hours per year. In turn, that creates increased capacity at an organization to deal with new opportunities and sets it up for greater success when things get back to normal.

What does that look like in real life? Consistently building process muscle and capacity over the past ten years has allowed the Communities Foundation of Texas to consistently raise more money and make more grants on a year-over-year basis without dramatic increases to its budget. This year, to help address the impacts of COVID-19, CFT, in partnership with United Way of Metropolitan Dallas and the Dallas Cowboys, decided to offer its signature event, North Texas Giving Day twice — in early May and again on September 17 (the event's regular date).

Because even organizations that make a seamless transition to remote work are likely to hit potholes, there are related benefits as well. Working remotely makes it harder for people to see what other team members are working on or to reach out for help with challenges that arise during the day. It may also encourage employees to try to find their own solutions to a problem rather than work to find one within a team structure. Online training and coaching address these risks by bringing everyone together in one place and reinforcing agreed-upon procedures.

Essential elements for virtual training and coaching

So, what makes for effective virtual training and coaching? Here are a few things to look for:

Skilled facilitator. Unlike online training videos that merely offer pointers, live training with a skilled facilitator involves employees in a hands-on way with tools and activities that have been proven to engage participants. Live training and coaching also give team members real-time opportunities to get answers to their questions.

Flexible schedules. Virtual training and coaching should improve your operations, not disrupt them. Ideally, classes should take place in small sessions spread over a couple of weeks and at times that fit into your team's availability, allowing team members to continue to do their work while meeting increased community needs.

Manageable meetings. One benefit of online meetings is that you’re not limited by the logistics of physical meetings (e.g., access to conference rooms). But just because you can convene have a bigger group, doesn't mean you should. Smaller sessions make it easier for participants to interact with the facilitator and each other, which leads to better engagement and better results.

Relevant content and tools. The nonprofit sector isn't the only industry facing challenges as a result of COVID-19. Retail outlets, restaurants, and parks departments are all trying to navigate this new reality, as are any number of other industries. However, each group has its own unique challenges, and solutions that work for one won't necessarily work for another. To get the most from your virtual training and coaching, look for content and best practices that have been proven to help nonprofit organizations recapture time.

Time is more precious than ever for nonprofit and philanthropic organizations. Nobody wants to say no to their board or to needs in their community, but saying yes without optimizing processes means pushing employees to do more at a time when they're already dealing with a variety of challenges, including adjusting to remote work and, perhaps, balancing work and childcare. All that can lead to employee burn out. Organizations that are able to find creative ways to maximize their existing resources, on the other hand, will be better able to weather this unprecedented health crisis while helping their communities do the same. 

As founder and president of Innovation Process Design, Inc., Lee Kuntz has spent nearly two decades using process improvement to solve the unique challenges faced by leaders of complex service organizations. Through expert training and coaching, she helps teams look at their work with new eyes, transform how work gets done, and create real results. 

The sustainable nonprofit

April 27, 2020