Setting Up a COVID-19 Task Force Is A Proactive Strategy
Posted in News Story
By A. Michael Gellman, CPA, CGMA
April 28, 2020
A. Michael Gellman is an independent Fiscal and Financial Strategist (CFSO) for nonprofit organizations and a founding principal partner for Fiscal Strategies 4 Nonprofits, LLC. He is also a part of the Center for Public & Nonprofit Leadership faculty.
Through many conversations with clients and colleagues, and feedback from participants in my webinars and podcasts, I have found that nonprofit organizations are benefiting significantly from setting up a task force to help respond and react to the many issues and disruptions related to the COVID-19 crisis.
The task forces have been extremely helpful to the organizations who moved quickly to establish them, and all these organizations are considering maintaining them through the duration of the crisis. Based on the experiences of various sizes and types of organizations, I have compiled information around what was effective, what strategies were used, the operating parameters and working tasks assigned.
The following is my summary of some of the more innovative and effective tactics and strategies used:
Set-Up and Composition
Include a mix of Board members and non-Board members, such as:
- Health service professionals
- Regional and local government officials and staff
- Bank officials
- Insurance, safety and risk management professionals
- Grant funders
- Corporate finance professionals (my favorite since assessing financial impact and forecasts was a key need)
- HR professionals (my second favorite since there will be many difficult staffing issues)
- CEO, CFO, Controller, HR Director and appropriate Program Directors and Staff
The CEO and Board Chair should select the task force members and appoint a task force chair. The chair should be chosen carefully, based on the following criteria:
- Be realistic – Who is best suited to lead and has the time and drive to perform?
- Be opportunistic – Who brings the most recognition, experience and connections for resources?
- Be selfish – Who will meld best with your senior management team?
The task force should report to the Board executive committee, CEO, and CFO.
Operational Parameters and Assigning Tasks
Explicitly set expectations for the roles and duties of the task force, such as:
- Performing research
- Assessing risks
- Proposing problem-solving solutions
- Providing professional expertise
The CEO and CFO should be responsible for assigning specific tasks and actively managing the workflow. Their role includes:
- Receiving reports from the task force. The task force should only report to the CEO and CFO, except for special circumstances when it is determined that the board or executive committee should hear from the task force directly.
- Keeping the executive committee and board informed.
The task force should have no direct authority or approval functions. Instead, their role is to provide information, advice and service (extension of your work force). Specifically, the task force should primarily focus on:
- financial protection,
- financial impact on resources, and
- financial impact on cash flow.
Additionally, they may also:
- Advise on workforce, HR, remote work, and social distancing
- Advise on medical implications of positive tests and informing staff, members, and attendees
- Assess vulnerability of funding sources
- Assess effect on demand for services, mission capabilities and priorities
The task force should meet often, using a set schedule. It is recommended to begin with once-per-week meetings and then move to bi-weekly meetings after 4 to 6 weeks (based on the need and timeline of the initial assignments). You can then shift to monthly meetings when the true recovery period begins. It is important to either set a date for sunsetting the task force, or a better strategy is to use rolling 90-day periods with extensions.
Task Force Benefits
This type of task force can be a tremendous resource and service to your organization. The task force can be nimble and act as a partial supplement to staff during a time of great need and staffing reductions. The task force can act as a set of specialists, both alleviating the need to hire professionals while providing vital resource information. They can be your go-to consulting team, ready to tackle problems and provide solutions that staff has neither the time nor the expertise to handle.
Planning Tip – It is never too late to add a crisis task force. Be thoughtful in your approach and be fully transparent with your Board of Directors and staff and with the task force members on delegation of assignments and information developed.
One final thought: whether you are a big organization or a smaller organization, both will benefit from setting up a COVID-19 task force (and a crisis task force generally, as the need arises from time to time).
Small to Mid-Size Nonprofits
Smaller organizations should limit the size and scope of assignments and make sure financial implications and risk assessment are the primary objectives of the task force. Smaller organizations could consider using one of their in-place board committees such as their finance committee or another standing committee and add a few additional special members to that committee chosen as suggested above. Then specific new tasks could be assigned to the committee for their extended temporary role.
You could argue that smaller organizations and even mid-size organizations will see added benefit from a COVID-19 task force since they do not have the advantage of a large staff with many different skill sets. Small organizations do have the ability to be nimble and reach out to professionals, to not only bring their expertise to the table but also to be there to supplement a downsized staff with temporary services of many different natures. Small organizations will be under extreme budget pressure and a task force could be the difference in keeping capacity closer to the needs of recipients, members and the community at large.
Finally, for small and mid-size organizations, consider the efforts of task force members as in-kind contributions. The value of their contributions will likely be much larger than a cash donation they might be able to give. With this in mind reach out to law firms, private interest support groups, universities for intern project support, medical professionals, financial professionals and of course people who believe in your mission.
For larger organizations, the emphasis should be on finding the right team members with expertise matched to the needs and scope of your organization. Large organizations need to tightly control task force assignments, so the task force works through one or two assignments at a time before new tasks are given. Also, large organizations might consider adding a “subcommittee” structure for the task force when assignments and tasks are larger with expanded scope and time requirements. Large organizations will still have their finance committees and other committees in place. The crisis task force is not there to displace these standing committees or worse compete with them or contradict them. Consequently, transparency and coordination are critical. With strong inter-committee/task force communications, results will be better and faster.