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How Lessons from Last Recession Can Help Organizations Today


As the world faces significant disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, every organization must manage and operate through this crisis. Organizations can retrench, retool and emerge even stronger and more valuable to their audiences and constituents by developing an actionable plan and embracing technology, as well as their human capital. 

Leaders of our Public Sector and Not-for-Profit Industry Groups got together to brainstorm and share some of their own lessons learned from the last recession for not-for-profit organizations, colleges and universities, and governmental entities.  
Here are some ways organizations can prepare: 

  • Disaster preparedness and having a plan for continuity of operations, that is communicated to all employees, is key. Every employee should know and understand their responsibilities for continuity of operations in a crisis and have the systems and tools available to fulfill those responsibilities, whether in or out of the office. 
  • Open and transparent communication, to the fullest extent possible, is even more important. Setting the appropriate tone at the top and providing a consistent presence for your employees is critical. Allow your employees to express their concerns. Embrace virtual collaborative opportunities, and your organization will find unique ways to persevere and emerge stronger with an even more innovative and valuable service offering.  
  • Mindful and timely communication in crisis is also critical for your constituents, donors and beneficiaries. While constituents and donors are likely also struggling, communication of your value and ongoing needs is key to ensuring those relationships continue during recovery. Remind your constituents and beneficiaries you are always there to serve them, even as the process and methods may be different in the near term. In many cases they are relying on your organization now more than ever to deliver on your mission. 
  • Operating reserve maintenance and management is critical. Realize that some traditional funding sources will be interrupted while spending might need to increase in certain areas to deal with the crisis. Nonprofit organizations may have inaccessible funds due to program or time restrictions. These organizations could ask funders to release or modify such restrictions. Work to increase your operating reserves at all times so that emergency funding is available.  
  • Budget management is key to deal with increased expenditures in critical areas. During a crisis, funding may need to shift to critical functions such as public safety. Be prepared to halt non-essential spending to divert those funds to critical areas. 
  • Work with your vendors and contractors to renegotiate contracts or delay projects until the crisis is over. We recommend that you have language in all contracts that allows you to suspend operations and projects with vendors and contractors in certain situations. 
  • Making decisions on potential operational cuts and staffing realignment are extremely difficult. Make sure you have a plan in place that identifies essential functions, and make sure you do not sacrifice critical functions and emerging talent for short-term gain. Be sure to seek appropriate counsel on these issues, as well as specific employment issues and labor contracts. 

In the coming weeks, the advisors at Brown Smith Wallace will continue to share additional insights, resources and tools to help guide leaders through the challenges of managing an organization during this tumultuous time. Visit our COVID-19 Resources hub for additional insights.  

Stay tuned, and if you have any questions in the meantime, please contact: 

Ron Steinkamp, Advisory Partner and Public Sector Industry Group Leader, or 314.983.1238 

Jen Vacha, Tax Partner and Not-for-Profit Industry Group or 314.754.0230 

Tom Etling, Advisory Principal and Marketing Advisory Practice Leader, or 314.687.2320 

Keenan McKinney, Advisory Manager and Higher Education or 314.983.1316 


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