For a few weeks, every April, I experience watery eyes, shortness of breath and uncontrollable bouts of sneezing. Growing up, this phenomenon was routinely classified as me suffering from ‘Asthma’. Now, at 33, I know enough to know that I suffer from ‘Hay Fever’ every spring when the northern part of India is flooded with small but scores of little dabs of pollen-matter floating around everywhere.
I know this finally now as unlike previous seasons where I would just pop antihistamines and push through the discomfort of hives and other symptoms; this year, due to the ongoing lockdown, I managed to take out enough time and exert enough effort to finally get to the root of this problem. It is not a solution as one does not exist but at least I now have the comfort of knowing the causes and possible medicines to treat it best.
This would not have been possible had I not had the freedom from seemingly critical tasks that are part of professional and personal commitments during a regular work-life.
And the same is true, right now, of non-profits. Make no mistake, this is a tough time for almost everyone. But there are three valuable upsides to the coronavirus lockdown.
First, there is a long-enforced pause in the tactical minutiae of daily work that allows you to see the big picture. Second, the virus presents you with the time to remedy some of the long-standing issues that your moment of reflection has subsequently revealed. And finally, the pause in trading enables you to fix those issues once and for all, before the wheels of a daily task-list grind into motion again.
If you are a young, allergy-free communications specialist who has yet to see a proper big non-profit at a very senior level, this won’t make any sense. Yet. You still see organizations as always-efficient programme machines that are unencumbered by ancient baggage.
But they are not. Even the most successful organisation is riddled with the unnecessary complications and costs of former periods and earlier strategies.
Organisations pay the price for being busy and moderately successful, and it starts to hurt them a bit. Not enough to stop and change, but enough to restrict future movement and success. And the fact that an organisation is still busy and successful and big means that no-one has the time or the guts or the motivation to fix the issues.
I am not saying that coronavirus will change everything so that you have to reinvent your organisation or programme. That’s the opposite of what I think. Coronavirus is not going to change anything once it ends, aside from providing organisations with a strategic time-out to do the things that they should have done but could not do because there was too much ‘work’ going on.
Consider that carefully for yourself and your work.
And while you are at it, think about the 60/40 rule too. For many organisations, the addiction to short-term impact means little if any money is invested in longer-term emotional brand-building. But with so many organisations seeing no immediate impact potential out there for many more weeks, there is an existential opportunity to pause all short term non-essential spends but maintain longer-term branding investments.
Those long-term investments will work better with so many competitors (I hate to use this word for our fuzzy, warm non-profit world but nothing else works better; we are always competing for funds, talent and partnerships, whether we admit to it or not.) pulling back and, when the tide is up again, they will have created a significant head of scarce resources critical to their future success.
Most organisations are going to cut their communication budgets for the rest of 2020. Many will cease their spending completely. But the smart ones will – at the very least – spend a bit of money to keep their brand salient and out there in the market. They will gain the most.
The early bird does not get the worm. The one that was up all night using an integrated mix of codified messages has already attracted all the worms and is now scooping them up in its fat little beak.
There are many more options to consider as the coronavirus spring cleaning takes hold. But as I look up at my reflection of a teary-eyed sneezing human who is trying his best to not scratch the multiple blisters all over his right foot, I can only impel you to act and act now. You have a unique window to think, decide and do. One that will, hopefully, never arise again.
*Views expressed are personal.