by Shari Finnell, editor, Not-for-Profit News

After more than seven months of operating under restrictions caused by COVID-19, most nonprofit organizations have made adjustments in programming and/or office operations,  with some permanently changing their service models with the aid of technology, according to an informal survey by Charitable Advisors.

For some, the new normal has revealed inadequacies in employees’ ability to deliver services from home. However, others noted some positive outcomes.

“Now we understand we can work successfully from home,” one survey respondent said. “The silver lining is that we all gained better technological skills. Plus, we adapted by recruiting, training, and working with volunteers all through virtual means — remarkable.” With that significant shift, the survey respondent said that the team plans to reduce its lease footprint in the future.

Another survey respondent questioned the need for a facility if social distancing continued to be a requirement for the foreseeable future. “Our current space is not set up for social distancing,” the respondent said. “Do we need a physical location at all?”

However, a significant number indicated that they will continue to need their facilities to deliver services.

Of 59 nonprofit representatives who responded to the survey, which was conducted in August 2020 …

  • more than 30% said that everyone was working from home;
  • nearly 38% said programs are being delivered virtually;
  • slightly more than 12% said programs have been suspended;
  • more than 44% continue to deliver in-person services;
  • more than 40% reported that they are now reconsidering their facility needs;
  • and more than 50% say they do not anticipate any change in facilities post-COVID.

Numerous organizations also reported that their team has become more innovative about facility usage in an effort to maintain social distancing as outlined under COVID-19 guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For example, a survey respondent reported, employees at their nonprofit work as part of a staggered shift pattern to maintain social distancing in facility environments that do not allow for those regulations to be met at full capacity. “Everyone is working from home but they may come in on designated days to limit the number of people in the office,” the respondent said. Another said that their nonprofit is now open only two days a week instead of five days a week.

Also, a significant number of respondents said they are safely providing in-person services by implementing adaptations and restrictions. Some of the nonprofits that provide essential services, including medical care, haven’t stopped delivering services. However, they are operating under different guidelines.. “We are currently pre-screening patients by phone and scheduling appointments, instead of our walk-in hours,” a respondent said. “We may continue a hybrid version of this protocol in future months.”

Another respondent said their team adapted for social distancing but have no plans to change their use of their facilities in the future. “Our work really requires human interaction. Virtual is a poor substitute.”

Several respondents said the pandemic also initiated their thinking about creating a remote workforce. “We plan to shrink our office footprint, but that was planned for 2021 anyway; not directly because of the pandemic,” a survey respondent said. “In response to the pandemic, we would shrink now if we could without a lease penalty.”

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