Channeling COVID-19 anxiety into action through social responsibility

How to honor business commitments to the nonprofit community during uncertain times

Coronavirus (COVID-19) has impacted nearly every part of our world, including our daily business operations. While we are navigating uncharted waters, businesses also have an opportunity to channel anxiety into action by activating support for nonprofit and community organizations, creating collective purpose and connecting employees through storytelling.

While we are managing behind-the-scenes changes to policy and practice, it is also important to stay true to values and culture. Many businesses have worked hard to prioritize community investment. During this time of great stress, we must remember these commitments are still essential. Now more than ever, we must remember community purpose is the engine of long-term profitability.

Here are six recommendations businesses can quickly implement to positively impact communities and employees during these trying times.

Check in

Now is the time to check in with your company’s nonprofit partners and ask how COVID-19 is impacting them. Many nonprofits are seeing an increased demand for services while facing an uncertain financial future. Organizations that provide childcare, food, shelter and housing are seeing the greatest immediate demand. These organizations are responding with fewer volunteers, remote or limited staffing, and increased costs due to cleaning and safety measures. A business partner who asks what is needed and can quickly channel resources will build goodwill for a lifetime.

Give Generously and Creatively

Many nonprofits rely on fundraising events and volunteer drives to meet the needs of those they serve. COVID-19 hit in the middle of event season, leaving nonprofits to cancel critical fundraisers. While some may be able to recoup costs, many are left with the dual hit of paying for minimums and the loss of revenue.

Mobilizing your workforce to host an online fundraiser on behalf of a nonprofit partner could make a big difference. You could also consider hosting a virtual food or supply drive using tools like Amazon Wish List. Work with your nonprofit partners to create language and tools for easily engaging employees.

Consider matching employee donations or encouraging virtual competitions. Providing these opportunities for engagement can boost morale, create camaraderie and help employees feel empowered to do something meaningful during a crisis. It also reminds employees that while you put their needs first, your company cares deeply about the communities where they live and work.

Pivot your giving

For companies who have dollars earmarked for charitable giving or in-person business development and sponsorships, now is the time to use them to support those who will be disproportionately impacted by this crisis.

Many community foundations like the Denver Foundation have announced emergency funds to mobilize philanthropy efforts toward providing support our communities need right now. A leadership gift directed to one of these efforts could make a meaningful difference in our state’s long-term recovery. Follow the lead of companies like Twilio and Western Union Foundation, and coalitions like Stop the Spread, who are stepping up to support communities in the wake of COVID-19.

Offer expertise

If you have employees who sit on nonprofit boards, urge them to identify what immediate expertise the organization is seeking. Every nonprofit is working hard to make the right decisions for staff, volunteers, supporters and those they serve. But these are uncharted waters. If your employee base has expertise in areas including health and safety, contracts, human resources and communications, giving them time to volunteer their skillsets is an innovative way to apply business solutions to solve social problems.

Remember to draft a policy outlining what employees are permitted to do, how the company will support them through time and donations, and then encourage employees to make it happen with their nonprofit connections. Consider also creating a matrix of expertise your employees can offer. Take this matrix to your nonprofit partners, determine what their needs are and make connections within your company for short- or long-term support.

Tell a story

Our brains are programmed to align in a powerful way when we hear or read stories about other people. Storytelling is an influential tool that can help employees feel empowered, purposeful and committed.

Ask your nonprofit partners to record a brief phone video describing what they see from the front lines and share it with staff along with your commitment to support them. Talk about why a leadership gift you made to an emergency fund is meaningful to an individual who has lost a job, is feeling insecure about food or housing or has no medical coverage. Demonstrate your company culture and values by sharing stories of employees stepping up to volunteer virtually, provide pro bono expertise or fundraise. Ask them what it means to them. Create polls to gauge support. Provide facts and stats along with your stories. Video, group messaging tools and intranet platforms can help make this easier. All of this will reinforce the culture of good you have worked hard to develop.

Be patient

 Every nonprofit is trying hard to do the right thing and make the right decisions for staff, volunteers, supporters and those they serve. Nonprofit professionals are carefully weighing the actions they take against the impact it will have on their ability to deliver services today and in the future. If information isn’t coming quickly or messages are mixed, know there is someone on the backend trying very hard to do the right thing. You may be frustrated. You may be scared. But remember, we are all in this together.


Sarah Hogan and Cori Streetman are principals and co-founders of Barefoot PR, a public relations firm that works with businesses and nonprofits to build reputational capital through traditional and non-traditional public relations strategies.

Categories: Business Insights, COVID-19, Management & Leadership