The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted many aspects of development work, from running programs, coordination with staff, volunteers, overseas collaborators and beneficiaries, to managing funds.

Especially in the developing and transition countries, local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and civil society organisations (CSOs) can play a significant role in providing service to communities. Most of them however are likely to have low overhead and are dependent on donations and volunteers. They can be especially affected by various disruptions associated with the pandemic, including project suspension, reduced donations, withdrawal of volunteers, and funding redirection or cuts.

In this blog and an upcoming one, we would like to share some tips for NGOs and CSOs to move forward in spite of the current challenge and rapid changes. 

First step: review current activities and reach out to current donor funding existing projects. 

  • Inform donors of the situations on site.
  • Which project activities have to stop?
  • Are current projects still relevant/pertinent, or should we pivot to other kinds of intervention?
  • Look for a joint solution/adaptation where needed. 

We will cover more tips on managing existing projects in our next blog post.

Second step: review current operations at organisation level. 

Action change according to priority. Some pertinent questions include:

  • How can we coordinate core staff while ensuring work safety?
  • How to coordinate with current donors and to manage changes in project situations?
  • If the need to cut cost arises, how can we do so while retaining operational capacity?
  • Brief your staff and carry out orientation on the dos and don’ts of remote work! (e.g. are work-related calls to private mobile allowed?)  Set out new rules if necessary.

Third step: continue to seek and apply for funds for new projects. 

How to design and pitch projects in the new normal? We have the following tips:

  1. Be alert on the changing needs of your community/ clients/ target group.
    • What needs are urgent now or will emerge as a consequence of the pandemic? For example, if your organisation is working with construction workers, it is possible that many suffer job losses and may wish to return to their hometown or village.
  2. Are there new courses of action that your organisation can pursue? Maybe some new ideas have to take a backseat, and others prioritized.Consider where and how your organisation’s service is needed, more so during the pandemic.  
    • Reallocation of funds towards Covid-19 measures in many aspects (education, economic development, violence, food security, and so on) mean that there is support aimed at new intervention priorities.
    • Map new funding possibilities. Donor mapping, for example, is a service we regularly provide to our clients. 
  3. Note feedback from current donors on existing projects, and ensure these are addressed in new proposals.
    • What are their concerns? Some donors will specify that some activities cannot be supported during the pandemic. Others may wish to have assurance that project activities have to meet safety and regulations concerning Covid-19.
  4. Keep updated on the latest national & local rules and measures.
    • Take them into consideration when planning activities.
    • Ensure these are communicated and addressed in your proposal.
    • State how you plan to keep main stakeholders: staff, donors, and beneficiaries informed of changes as much as possible.
  5. Ensure safety and legality of planned activities.
    • Which tasks can be done remotely?
    • Can some tasks be delegated to partners or staff in the locality
    • Do stakeholders have access to technology which will enable long-distance communication (e.g. mobile phone, internet, computer)
    • Note safeguard policies on privacy and security, as more data is exchanged digitally– especially when dealing with minors. For example, it may be easy to suggest installing cameras to monitor the activities remotely– but is this socially acceptable
    • How will you coordinate staff and access the target group?
    • How can risks of on-site tasks and travels be minimized, if they are absolutely necessary?
    • What equipment and supplies will you need to protect staff and project beneficiaries?
  6. Do risk assessment and plan for contingencies.
    • List down possible risks to the proposed activities and goals and assess the likelihood and severity.
    • Brainstorm back-up plans and risk mitigation strategies.
    • Have plans set for possible need to evacuate staff.
  7. Adjust goals and targets.
    • Take into account that the situation during the pandemic can change by day or week. Do you need to adjust the target, scope and timeline? For example, governments around the world are extending lockdowns and adjusting regulations within weeks or a few days’ notice.
    • If social distancing rules mean that the number of participants have to be significantly reduced or changed to outdoor venue, these have to be stated.
    • Timelines may stretch—consider risks of further movement restrictions, reduced manpower, and difficulties in remote coordination.
  8. Budget
    • Include higher contingency percentages in project budgets, activities and scope — depending on how much financial contingency is allowed by the donor. 
    • If needed and allowed — Include Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in the budget.
    • Consider change in operations cost due to less travel and more remote coordination.
    • Consider investing in team software and teleconference software.
  9. Human resources
    • Consider the possibility of reduced manpower: overseas collaborators and partners may not be able to travel, or may be evacuated; volunteers may be less available; and some staff may not be able to engage in some activities due to heightened health risk.
  10. Communicate clearly & ask questions.
    • Be descriptive in the current context and local situation – more so if this is your organisation’s first contact with the donor. Show that you understand and are fully aware of the local situation.
    • If in doubt, stay proactive and contact the donor organisations directly.

After reading the above list, you may realise that nearly all the measures are being implemented in practice by organizations, including your own, perhaps even before the pandemic!

The good news is then: changes and challenges are not new to us; the key is to adapt and move forward.