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Capt. Josh Hinson recently shared some observations and lessons he learned during the COVID-19 pandemic and how the recent past could inform future activities. When we spoke with him, Capt. Josh and his wife Jordan were serving as Corps Officers of The Salvation Army’s Columbus, GA Corps Community Center and together oversaw a five-county area in Central Western Georgia. They now serve at Evangeline Booth College in Atlanta, Georgia. In Columbus, Josh, Jordan and a team of Salvation Army employees and volunteers were responsible for the organization’s response to COVID-19. Josh’s interview with Derek Alley, Arthur Alley Co-founder & President, follows.
What were some of the most obvious ways that COVID-19 has affected your work?
This crisis is like a local disaster. Our normal programs were quickly impacted. We immediately stopped afterschool programming, family (thrift) store operations, and community meals. We had to change the way we provided some services, like the community meals, before we could start them back. For the community meals we invested in clam shells and bottled water. Social service needs increased, and we had to quickly find ways to provide assistance safely. Our first priority was safety for staff and keeping the clients safe.
What was most surprising?
The amount of flexibility required. There was never a comfortable place to operate because it was constant change. We were surrounded by uncertainty: How will staff and clients be affected? How do we learn to quickly adjust? How will fundraising be affected? What will be the amount of need?
The number of unknowns was amazing. We were always trying to adapt to new information. Personally, this feels like a disaster services response, so we used our disaster recovery training to rapidly adapt. This means we prioritized tasks to accomplish by the day. What decisions do I need help with today? Now, it feels like this disaster has lasted longer than most Salvation Army disaster deployments.
How did/will you respond?
Be honest with funding partners and staff.
When there was time to reflect on fundraising, I thought about making our organization’s story unique. Early on donors are excited and want to help. How can we tell our story differently, so donors are encouraged to continue their support? We will need it.
There are opportunities. I continually asked, how will we be best positioned to be what we need to be? Will the funding match up to our vision? Another layer of complexity is our upcoming move to Atlanta (Evangeline Booth College) and the need to take steps to help the incoming Salvation Army officers adapt.
Communication, access to information, and planning are key. We have one daily update from our Divisional Headquarters, so we do not have to sift through lots of information...one person is doing this for us on a statewide level. This is good. We are not making things up on our own or guessing on things like re-opening.
Did your online/email/digital engagement increase during the Pandemic? How so?
We made some small adjustments. Agility and ability to quickly adapt is key to maximizing online engagement. Our Divisional Headquarters assisted by sending e-mail updates using nationally created ads and banners like Hope is Greater than Fear.
We also increased the number of virtual meetings with volunteer leaders, community partners and donors. This came with its own challenges like addressing how to navigate all the webinars & Zoom meetings that can quickly fill the calendar. With virtual meetings, I miss the engagement that happens before and after in-person meetings – the opportunities to discuss other items of business or personal interest.
How will this engagement inform your future plans?
There is lots of uncertainty around our Red Kettle Campaign. How will we keep donors and volunteers/staff safe? Will our retail partners allow us to be in our usual locations? How do we remain flexible when people want concrete answers? Now is the time to plan.
What new habits/strategies/tactics will you bring with you into the post-COVID-19 era?
Flexibility & Communication. We will develop strategies that inform how we continue to communicate in a meaningful way and use new technology.
Do you have a strategic plan in place? How has it been useful during this time?
Because I'm in the middle of a transition, our strategic plan has helped me describe what the goals are. The key benefit for us through the planning process was to improve relationships with donors and partners in service.
How did you donor engagement change during this time?
Donors started reaching out to us. Awareness of our programs and services increased through our participation in community organized things like a weekly community call to identify needs and organizations that could address them. We were definitely “at the table.” As a result, community collaboration increased. When people hear our name, they want to know what we are doing. Our programs were needed so we stepped up to the plate and we communicated this to donors. Donors have asked us to keep them informed about what we are doing moving forward.
Do you have a development plan in place? Did you stick to it? How would a plan have been helpful if you didn't already have one?
A plan is always useful but new information will change it. During the Pandemic response there were too many unknowns. As a result, our stated goals are delayed or completely changed. A plan can't live on the shelf. You have to adjust it as you go.
Any other lessons learned - professional or personal -that you'd like to share?
God has been faithful. There are lots of folks in need. As people become more aware, they step up to help meet the need. We are working to navigate uncertain terrain while trying to do what we are called to do.
This interview was conducted by Arthur Alley as part of our efforts to share what we learn. Arthur Alley fundraising & mission development counsel empowers you to craft a meaningful story firmly rooted in your organization’s purpose and to effectively secure resources. Arthur Alley has the experience and insight to help you achieve your career goals and for your organization to thrive.
Want to learn more? Contact us here and we’ll be in touch.
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