Navigating COVID-19: A Mission-Critical Path Forward for Nonprofits

Posted by Reeve Staff in Daily Dose on April 07, 2020 # COVID-19

Our President and CEO, Peter Wilderotter, offers a path forward: "Resist fear and remember who you're fighting for."

Love and fear. At this uncertain moment, we are swimming in these two emotions, the core of our humanity. The question is, which one do we allow to guide us through the coming dark days? Resisting fear, reminding ourselves of love, will help us not only survive, but thrive as we continue the critical work of our respective philanthropic missions.

This isn’t the first crisis we have weathered together. From the Black Monday crash of ’87 to the life-altering days following September 11th to the crushing financial crisis of 2008, the road has not always been easy. Aspects of this pandemic feel eerily similar: we consume 24/7 news coverage; we hear that the sky is falling; and we feel deep disconnection.

And we wonder, do donors recognize our perilous position and, even, will they ever return?

Yet despite our worst fears, we always emerge stronger. We do the necessary work, the good work.

America is great because America is good. If America ever stops being good, it will stop being great.

Through this lens, I share the following steps that we are taking at the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation to push forward through the challenges of COVID-19:

  • Understand the depth of the crisis: Gather staff and your board — everyone from the number crunchers to the missionaries – and your network of industry colleagues to hash out, unfiltered, a 360-degree view of this crisis.
  • Break down perceived and real silos: Ensure that all stakeholders have a voice, that the organization is operating from the same shared understanding, and that difficult decisions are underpinned by all available knowledge and multiple perspectives.
  • Communicate, communicate and communicate: Right now, we hunger for human connection. Fortunately, technology can help bring us back together and manage one of the most challenging aspects of this crisis from the safety of our homes.
  • Write, write and write: I regularly journal and believe there is no better way than putting pen to paper to creatively plan, problem-solve and generate fresh ideas. How many times have you walked away from a conversation wanting to jump into action, but only when you attempt to capture it on paper do the holes become obvious? Collaborating with a team through writing — where each voice is equally valued ­– fills the gaps and allows the organization to advance ideas with a comprehensive strategy in place.
  • Deploy people for the most important work: For nonprofits, fundraising becomes the most critical work in a crisis. Our survival depends on generating the dollars to carry us through meager times. Right now, all hands need to be on deck. Deploying people across the organization, no matter if trained for the task or not, is crucial. The best fundraisers are not simply charismatic salespeople; the best fundraisers are also the best listeners.
  • Look to history: Inspiration abounds within every organization. At the Reeve Foundation, the words of our founders often provide the spark we need: Christopher Reeve said, “When we have hope, we discover powers within ourselves we may have never known -- the power to make sacrifices, to endure, to heal, and to love. Once we choose hope, everything is possible.” Our own vice chair has thankfully recovered from COVID-19 and his experience underscores our past, present and future priority — caring for our high-risk community.
  • Be aggressive, forgive, and have hope: We must not waver as we aggressively seek to fulfill our missions, even as we may be confronted by fear, within ourselves and in others. Everyone is grieving. Give yourself and others the opportunity to vent and offer grace and forgiveness. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross observed that the only thing that gets people through a particular stage is hope. We follow what Christopher taught us — there is only hope and no such thing as false hope.

The Reeve Foundation, like many other nonprofits, is now focused on preservation. Our founders decided early on that the needs of those we serve are paramount. Every dollar we raise is immediately invested in programs that advance innovative research toward a cure for spinal cord injury and improve the quality of life for individuals and families impacted by paralysis.

Because of this, we do not have a large reserve for a rainy day; we are at considerable risk. But preservation is not the reason to give. Rather, the value we provide to our community — before, during and after this crisis – is the reason to donate today. To date, we have helped more than 100,000 people through our Paralysis Resource Center. In the weeks since COVID-19 swept across the country, our team has worked relentlessly to not only continue its day-to-day support of those with living with paralysis, but also provide life-saving information about this virus for the population that faces the highest risks.

This pandemic will pass and, when it does, the Reeve Foundation is determined to once again accelerate its groundbreaking ambitions for care, cure and community. With your help, COVID-19 will pose only a temporary roadblock to our good work. We will emerge changed — sadder, stronger, grateful – because crises can push us forward with love, despite fear, and remind us of our true impact on the people we serve.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.