Episode 38: A Year Into The Pandemic

For a lot of nonprofits, it’s been a year of working remotely, replacing in-person events with virtual events and trying to make it through the next quarter. Before the coronavirus pandemic, Pam Keough would have described herself as one of those bosses who believes everyone needs to be in the office. Now, it’s not so black and white.


Keough is president and CEO of Make-A-Wish Foundation Connecticut. in Trumbull, about 70 miles outside New York City. A year ago, she spoke with The NonProfit Times about how the organization was dealing with the early stages of the pandemic. We visited with her again in fall, about six months into the pandemic, and again in March, just before the anniversary of the pandemic, to see how things have gone.

“In general, I see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Keough said during an interview in March. “It’s gotten to a point — and I’m talking to a lot of the CEOs — their staff has just kind of had it. Everyone’s just ready to get back to where we were over a year ago,” she said.

In September, some staff returned to the office voluntarily, going in teams and implementing safety measures like directional arrows on the floor and deep cleaning protocols. But when COVID cases rose amid another wave in December, people got nervous, Keough said. “I think people have gone the other way, they don’t want to wear their sweatpants anymore, they don’t want their dog barking in the background. I think people have just had enough,” she said.

Keough has tried hard to be sensitive to employee concerns, whether coming into the office or working remotely. Ahead of the Presidents’ Day holiday, she surprised staff with an extra day off on Friday to make it a four-day weekend. “People aren’t taking PTO although we’re encouraging them,” she said. “You get back what you give so when you give a day off, they come back recharged and work even harder.”

At the start of the pandemic in spring 2020, digital fundraising declined but traditional mail took off as people were home and actually reading their mail. That phenomenon has since flipped, with digital fundraising backĀ  up and direct mail fundraising back to normal. Still, Keough expects the pipeline of wishes probably won’t get back to normal until 2024. MAW Connecticut laid off three of 18 staff members in August but plans to hire one back on the program side.