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The Time Is Right for Organizational Learning

A look at how U.S. nonprofits have changed during the COVID-19 pandemic

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, a shelter in the Midwest serving 16 different families had to quickly overhaul its operations. This included changing meal-time routines to account for social distancing, helping parents transition their children from in-school to online learning and reducing the number of on-site staff to limit the potential spread of the virus. It also had to temporarily stop its volunteer program and in-kind donations, and cancel its major annual fundraising event.

The pandemic forced these kinds of dramatic changes on organizations on all sectors, but it particularly challenged nonprofits: While demand for services typically increases during economic downturns, nonprofits are reliant on lean operating structures, volunteer help and face-to-face service provision. Yet our research on the personal and professional changes U.S. nonprofit workers experienced shows that organizations quickly adjusted to COVID-19 safety protocols and adopted new policies in response to new needs. Despite the difficulties, and counter to the common perception that nonprofits lack efficiency and competence, many have proved nimble and innovative, and have managed to successfully weather the storm so far.

But what’s on the horizon for these organizations as new virus variants and simultaneous expectations of “returning to normal” emerge?

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