While global health and governmental agencies grapple with how best to fight the new coronavirus (COVID-19), nonprofit organizations worldwide are scrambling to figure out what steps they should take and how they can be helpful in this time of uncertainty.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is taking aggressive public health measures to help protect the health of Americans and assist international partners. Leaders at nonprofit organizations can also play a pivotal role at this critical time.
COVID-19 is very dangerous, and we must take comprehensive and coordinated action to address it. Today, we must be diligent in our response as the outbreak continues to spread worldwide, including in the United States, and the economic consequences that follow.
What can nonprofit leaders do in this time of uncertainty and concern? I’d like to offer five steps or initiatives that leaders of all nonprofits and philanthropies can take or consider.
Seek out the right information. The best source of up-to-date information on everything related to COVID-19 is the CDC website. It is a trusted source with information provided by CDC scientists. I know as I worked there and collaborate with them on an almost daily basis. Beyond CDC, look to your state and local public health departments. I was a state health commissioner for many years and coordinated a response to H1N1, and I know that state and local health departments offer accurate and timely infectious disease information.
Dispel myths. We are living in an anxious time, and as leaders we must ensure not to create a panic. This is even more difficult in an era where anyone with a smart phone can share an opinion or create a storyline. Myths about the coronavirus, including all the remedies, protections, etc. will continue to proliferate. Social media, while it can be a powerful tool to provide timely updates and information, can also make the problem worse. As leaders, we can dispel many of the myths about the disease and use our platforms to get out the facts.
Put into action good public health practices. As employers, community partners and influencers, the nonprofit sector enjoys a tremendous amount of trust and respect. Ensure your employees, volunteers and ambassadors know what they can do to protect themselves, their communities and the people they serve. Putting into practice actions from staying home when sick to cleaning and disinfecting work areas and communal areas where services are provided can make a big difference.
Make a financial grant. If your organization is in the position to do so, make a financial grant to strengthen public health and the response efforts. While increased funding is becoming available for public health agencies, governments cannot do it alone, particularly as the response moves from containment to mitigation. A collective response is needed to meet the rapidly evolving needs of COVID-19 — from communications campaigns to strengthening state and local health labs to providing equipment and supplies as well as supporting those in quarantine or those who are at high-risk from the dangers of COVID-19. In any crisis situation, it takes an effort on the part of all sectors to mitigate the crisis and meet the needs of our communities and vulnerable populations.
Collaborate with peer organizations. Nonprofit organizations and philanthropies have greater positive impact and can accomplish more collectively than individually. By aligning diverse interests and resources and leveraging the strengths of your organization with another, we can work together to fight this outbreak and support those affected. If your organization is in a position to partner with another nonprofit, please consider it. The nonprofit sector has been crucial in past emergency responses such as the Ebola and Zika outbreaks, and we can’t do it alone this time, either.
From the outset of the COVID-19 outbreak, there has been confusion, concern and anxiety about the infectious disease with good reason. We should treat it as we would other past outbreaks — recognize that it has not respected borders or politics and requires a collective effort of government, individual and organizations.
The resilience of our front line public health responders is amazing. The nonprofit community has the opportunity to support them and others affected by the COVID-19 outbreak by providing accurate information and working with the public health community to find innovative ways to offer support.
Judy Monroe, MD, is the president and CEO of the CDC Foundation.