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Lessons learned - an interview with Nemin Jaya of The Salvation Army

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Nemin Jaya recently shared some observations and lessons he learned during the COVID-19 pandemic and how the recent past could inform future activities. As the Director of Administration for The Salvation Army Newark Area Services, he fulfills the role of Chief Operating Officer. Nemin and a team of Salvation Army Officers, employees and volunteers were responsible for the organization’s response to COVID-19. Nemin’s interview with Steve Waiksnoris, Senior Consultant at Arthur Alley, follows.

What were some of the most obvious ways that COVID-19 has affected your work?

It was clear very quickly that we’d probably have to shift how we deliver service and maybe even the types of services. We asked ourselves ‘what’s the biggest need for the most vulnerable population and how quickly is it approaching?’

The answer was food and access to food. There are a lot of pantries here, but many are manned by volunteers and weren’t able to adjust with quarantine and social distancing. We set out to do it differently. We started working on the supply chain with the local food bank, distributors and vendors. Since our Salvation Army Westside Corps Community Center wasn’t operating, we transformed the gym into a warehouse and shifted that staff to be food-focused. We were able to get some funding from a local foundation and began collaborating with some other agencies to help distribute what we gathered. We continue to move 80,000 pounds of food per week.

It’s been a great reminder that when you collaborate, good things happen.

What was most surprising?

We got into the business of providing shelter, which we previously had not done here in Newark. Institutionally, The Salvation Army has a lot of experience with shelters, so the City of Newark approached us to partner with them. Remember, the homeless community didn’t have a place of their own to shelter-in-place. We ended up converting a 90 room hotel into a shelter for COVID positive residents and a 300+ room hotel into a shelter for homeless residents that were not infected. We act as the shelter managers and provide case management services.

Also very surprising, we were quickly able to hire 60+ new staff for the shelters while working within The Salvation Army’s hiring process during a time when social distancing and quarantines were being enforced.

Our pandemic response has also served as a complete reset on our organizational culture. To be honest, we’ve had our challenges here in the past with both human resource and financial challenges. Three months into this thing and it’s a total culture shift…we’re working together as one, we communicate better, staff is engaged from top to bottom. Our financial picture has improved. It’s great!

How did contributions to your organization compare March - May, 2020 to the same period in 2019?

Our donations are up about 100%. Mainly due to some foundation grants and special gifts, but we’ve also seen some individual donors step up as well.

How did/will you respond?

We have been relying on our Divisional Headquarters team to support the response. We’ve been so busy delivering service we haven’t developed a plan locally yet. But I know we need to.

Did your online/email/digital engagement increase during the Pandemic? How so?

Based on what I know, it has all increased. We’ve tried to make use of the various tools that Divisional and National Headquarters have provided to the field.

How will this engagement inform your future plans?

It’s definitely reinforced the need for intentional planning. It’s also made us aware that we need to be more agile and willing to change as an organization.

What new habits/strategies/tactics will you bring with you into the post-COVID-19 era?

I will continue to stay open to change and collaboration. Continue to be transparent, passionate and compassionate.

I will build on ways I do all that intentionally and hope that our team will take this modeled behavior into the future.

The organizational culture needs to be more agile and nimble.

Do you have a strategic plan in place? How has it been useful during this time?

We have some components, but not a full strategic plan. I think we would have definitely diverted due to the severity of this issue. I think having a defined strategic plan would help in the transition “back to new normal.”

How did you donor engagement change during this time?

Again, not much due to being so focused on service. It’s been clear we need to train our staff and board to be able to step up with this in a bigger way.

Any other lessons learned - professional or personal -that you'd like to share?

From a personal leadership perspective, you’ve got to show up and be present. I think staff needed to see leadership working with them at the shelter, moving food boxes, speaking to clients, and then staying on top of email and the day to day work supporting them. They need to feel like we will always have their back, but now they’ve seen it first-hand and they don’t have to do anything I wouldn’t do myself. It’s reinforced the importance of leading with compassion and integrity.

You have two possible responses to a crisis – you can scale back and revert or use it as an opportunity to rally everyone around to serve. It gives you a way to motivate people to respond.

There’s always a solution, we just have to find the ways. I believe every non-profit should take that opportunity. Be nimble and step up to the plate!

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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