Over the past 6 months, Scale Collaborative has been working with and learning from the non profit organizations who have been responding within the COVID-19 crisis. We have assisted 60+ organizations to strategize and navigate through this fiscal and beyond, and have noticed distinct realities that require different responses. For many non profit organizations, the loss of events, fundraising and earned income revenues has had a massive impact on their ability to plan and meet budget projections. They have had to pivot to new delivery models, re-look at their core expenses and make hard choices. This was expected.
A little less expected was non profit organizations who are having to scale quickly to meet a spike in demand. Growing quickly has its own stressors and challenges and needs to be managed differently. Here’s the story of one such organization, and strategies that can apply to other organizations facing fast growth.
Soap for Hope Canada has an elegant model: they take used hygiene products from hotels (little shampoos anyone?) and volunteers help repurpose them into hygiene kits that get distributed through community networks to those who need them most.
When COVID-19 hit and Bonnie Henry said: “wash your hands with soap”, Soap for Hope Canada was put on a slingshot growth trajectory- their mandate required them to respond to the increased demand and need, not only from organizations and community members in need but also from First Nations communities going into isolation. They doubled their operations in 6 months.
Here are 5 shifts Soap for Hope Canada made in order to grow quickly:
1st shift: Being willing to risk: just as people were being asked to wash with soap, hotels were facing shutdown. Soap for Hope Canada got a huge influx of product and then the supply stopped. This required finding new suppliers to ensure ongoing access to product, and a shift from repurposed product to needing to purchase product. They also had to shift into an abundance mindset (and risk) by taking whatever they could find– and warehousing any excess product.
2nd shift: Operational changes: with the increase in demand (they currently supply 305 organizations), Soap for Hope had to change their production and repackaging processes to manage the increase in product volume.
3rd shift: Human resource changes: volunteers could no longer come into the processing centre due to social distance rules. Soap for Hope Canada had to rethink their staffing model (by hiring more) and shift volunteers to remote processing. This meant a shift in training processes and distribution.
4th shift: New partnerships: in their original approach, hotels provided the product and earned revenues help cover organizational costs. Soap for Hope Canada shifted to accessing funds to support the short-term demand and are revisiting their hotel partner relationships once things calm down. They were able to access new foundation funding and they have a funder who was willing to assist through their shifts and pivots. They also need to find different partners and access new networks- Soap for Hope is developing corporate product partners and sponsorships that can meet them at the scale they need to operate at.
5th shift: Collaboration: collaborated more with other community organizations who helped source product, make deliveries and deliver on the demand. During COVID collaborations with other non profit organizations that usually don’t work together, came together to provide better solutions for communities.
Soap for Hope Canada is a unique story of exceptional growth over a short period of time- this kind of growth can place a significant strain on a non profit organization’s leadership, staffing, resources and networks. And it also presents an opportunity that, if managed carefully, can launch an organization into a new level of impact generation.
Here are some strategies to manage growth:
- Understand why you are growing—is this short term that will have a ‘return to normal’ or this a significant leap? This will help assess what types of investments to make
- Look at the revenue model attached to your scaling- if it doesn’t grow with your growth, you can get into a situation where growth costs more and leads to financial strain. Ideally, the more you grow, the more margin and resources you gain to deliver on impact
- Identify where you can gain efficiencies in your model- such as shifting online or finding ways to serve many through single points of entry
- Boards, support your leaders during this time. They are most likely working fast, furious and overtime. This is the time to invest in administrative assistants and technology to bring them out of the day-to-day so they can guide the organization through the transition
- Boards, employ risk mitigation strategies rather than resort to risk aversion
- Invest in staff– if you are not able to hire, explore temp labour, contract employment, promoting staff or shifting staff roles as short term solutions
- Invest in technologies and systems– there is nothing like growth to expose cracks in operational systems such as accounting, payroll, scheduling, records, reporting. Fix them as you see them, and budget for an overhaul
- Be aware of being spread too thin– manage this by increasing communications with key partners and delivering well where it matters most
- Growth might be an opportunity to let go of things that are underperforming and focus your resources and attention on where demand, need and impact is increasing
- Anticipate where you will be 6 months from now and build your capacity in advance; this can be challenging if you are waiting for funds and it may be time to explore different sources of revenues and financing
- Tell your story and connect it to opportunities to receive donations and community goodwill—fast growth usually comes with additional attention that can support your overall mission. Take your moment in the spotlight and shine!
Visit Soap for Hope’s website or follow them on Facebook to learn more about their organization and ongoing community support. Do you have a story about scaling in COVID-19? We’d love to share! Get in touch with us.
Read more about non profit organizations and COVID-19 in our Conversations on Sector Transformation series:
- We need to yell to have the concerns of non profits heard at the federal level. Better yet, how about a Minister?
- For COVID-impacted non profits and charities – what happens when the well runs dry?
- Non profits are a unique sector, requiring well thought through and targeted responses to COVID-19. Our very survival is at stake.