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Crisis Management for Land and Conservation Nonprofit Organizations

by Stacie Kowalczyk

As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, now is a critical time to ensure you are addressing short- and long-term needs for your organization. The pandemic will no doubt have a unique impact on land trust and conservation organizations, due to the unique nature of their activities and programming. You will no doubt emerge from COVID-19 a changed organization, having learned how to do business differently and leveraging what you learned to carry you forward.


Managing a Remote Workforce

Because many of your program employees are no doubt out on the land your organization seeks to protect and preserve, they may not have access to a dedicated laptop or high-speed internet that would enable them to perform some or all of their duties from home. Also, because employees may have family members and children in their homes during this time, bandwidth speed may become scarce.

Many well-known internet service providers, including Comcast, AT&T, Spring and Cox are lifting data caps or even offering discounts for increased bandwidth. Make sure your employees contact their provider or look into another provider for help. Often, they can do internet setup at home on their own.

Laptops are scarce these days, as well. Many PC and laptop manufacturers will have to make drastic shifts in their supply chains to address the shortage. Have a plan for how many laptops you may need and potential backups. In lieu of having a laptop for everyone, think of ways in which you can enable employees to work via devices they have at home, such as iPads. Consider whether employees can help their coworkers get work done via file share, updating files, sending emails or other tasks that an employee without a laptop would need to do.

Finally, stay connected to your team members and employees. Find creative ways to connect and share information. This could make a difference in productivity, engagement and employee loyalty. If you had plans to celebrate a team member’s birthday through a small office celebration, for example, turn it into a Zoom or Skype celebration. Have everyone come to the virtual meeting with their favorite dessert and sing happy birthday!


Programming

Some national parks and trails in our communities remain open during COVID-19 restrictions from our state and federal government. This means that employees could still be out on lands performing conservation or land protection activities and interacting with contractors or others to help with performing duties. Have your HR staff or other appropriate person send reminders out to ensure that employees comply with regulations while working, including social distancing, eliminating handshakes, handwashing and other safety measures.


Government and Private Funding

COVID-19 will likely impact performance under government contracts, whether federal, state or local. Impacts to supply chains, subcontractors and grantors, government personnel and your organization’s own workforce will have a combined impact. If you have not done so already, reach out to each of your government contractors and your subcontractors if you are a pass-through.

Reassess project timelines and workplans. You may find that some projects may be delayed in the short and long term through these discussions. Assess how this impacts cash flow timing, as well. Also, have candid discussions with your resource providers about potential alternate projects the funding can be used for. There might be ways to redirect funds in the short term that will keep projects moving and people employed.

If you receive significant funding from private foundations, individual donors and corporations, now would be a good time to connect with them on the purpose restrictions on those funds. We are hearing reports of donors allowing organizations to redirect those funds to be used for operations in cases where programming has paused or stopped. Use your relationships with your donors during these times to help free up capital, if possible, to keep your operations going.


Finance and Accounting

It will be important for finance and accounting functions to be as automated as much as possible during this period to help ensure you can still receive and process funding, pay vendors, make payroll and report out to your board committees and funders. If key accounting cycles such as vendor payment are not yet automated, consider automating those functions through ACH setup or automated bill payment systems like Bill.com. A system like Bill.com can be stood up very easily without much help or support and does not need to be integrated with your general ledger or ERP system to work. It has standalone functionality.

If you do decide to go the ACH route, make sure you have a confidential and secure way to store vendor information. And if vendors are calling to make changes to their account information during this time, make sure you are calling to verify that they requested the change. Don’t let this already challenging time be an opportunity for a fraudster to take advantage of your organization and your vendors.

A final thought is to see if there are ways that you can pay vendors with a credit card. Many vendors may be working with banks to waive credit card processing fees during this crisis, so it could be a timelier way to pay vendors without incurring additional fees. Several banking institutions also have automated bill pay systems, as well.

Tools such as Expensify, which is end-to-end expense management and reporting software, can help you ensure you can track and streamline employee expense management and reimbursement. Understand your cash flow. Forecast, reforecast and stress test your cash flow models during these times. Ensure you have long-term and short-term cash flow modeling. Review your cash flow with your board and other constituents.

Do you have a line of credit? Do you have a good relationship with your bank? Now is not the most opportune time to be requesting lines of credit and financing from your lender, but having your cash flow modeling and forecasting ready and a plan for your future can help your bankers understand the potential risks of an investment in your organization. Simply hitting the panic button and calling the bank for an increase in a line will probably not help. Come armed with information to help your lender understand why their investment in you is a solid one!


HR Considerations

If your organization is temporarily under pressure or in a short-term cash flow crunch, a staff furlough — a mandatory, temporary, unpaid leave from work — might be a more strategic option than a layoff, if you expect that your operations will continue in the long term. A furlough typically does not cost as much as a layoff, and it allows you the option to recall workers after a temporary shutdown. (You can learn more in our Furlough FAQ.)

A significant new piece of HR-related legislation to be aware of is the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which was signed into law on March 18. The new law requires employers to provide two kinds of paid leave related to COVID-19. It applies to employers with fewer than 500 employees and covers the period from April 1 to December 31, 2020.

Reach out to our experts if you have questions or need some assistance. To find the latest regulatory updates and other information on managing your organization through disruption, visit our COVID-19 Resource Center.

March 27, 2020

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