This nonprofit's steps to staying viable in a COVID-19 economy
Navigating the current pandemic crisis and its effects on the economy is difficult for all businesses.
Nonprofit organizations face many of the same barriers that businesses face, but there are unique challenges for nonprofits too. Many nonprofits, like the Westside Economic Alliance (WEA), rely on convening groups or hosting events, which isn't possible right now. At WEA, we have put into place three basic goals to help guide us through this crisis and into our "new normal" operating environment.
Our first goal is to protect our employees. WEA's staff has been working from home since March 16 — a week before the Governor's "Stay home, stay healthy" order went into effect.
The second goal is to ensure the long-term viability of the organization. The WEA team has reduced its working hours by 40 percent to help take the pressure off the organization's budget. Each staff member is working a reduced schedule of 24 hours per week. As a result, the WEA email newsletter is published once every two weeks instead of weekly, and an events update is published on the off week to make sure members are kept up to date on what's happening. We're trying to keep the quality of programming up while reducing staff availability.
WEA has been representing the business voice on the Westside for more than 21 years. The organization has survived significant changes in the region's economy primarily dictated by growth; a change in the overall makeup of our private sector membership from mostly commercial developers to a broad base of medium to large Westside companies and organizations (both in Washington County and the westside of Clackamas County); and it survived the Great Recession. During the Great Recession, the WEA experienced a reduction in membership, but we adapted both our services to members and our events, coming through the recession even stronger than before. Some might say we morphed and thrived, which is what we're striving to do again.
Our third goal right now is to stay relevant to our members through the crisis and into the recovery phase of this pandemic. The organization is evolving with new and creative formats. Like many organizations, we have expanded our reach to include sharing information on virtual platforms such as Zoom. This has allowed WEA to provide quality information to its membership. In fact, we've held more than 10 meetings now either through Zoom or telephone conference calls with more than 500 registrants. When the last two federal stimulus packages were being passed, both of Oregon's U.S. Senators, Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, joined WEA members through video conference or by phone. We also had an in-depth discussion with Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici. The members of our federal delegation answered questions and provided key information on critical issues. For an economic perspective on Covid-19's impact on the local economy, ECONorthwest's John Tapogna provided an impressive presentation. We have also had the opportunity to discuss Metro's homeless measure on the May ballot. While meeting virtually may not be the perfect way to discuss issues, it's a tool in the toolbox that allows us to still have conversations and continue advocating for a healthy regional economy.
We're also utilizing our website and social media to bring information on some of the state and local political races for the May primary. We invited all of the candidates for Secretary of State; House Districts 26, 28, 33, 35, and 37; Senate Districts 14 and 18; Washington County Districts 1 and 3; and the Beaverton Mayor's race to submit videos and to answer two questions from our Government Relations Committee. These can be found on the WEA website. WEA does not endorse candidates, but it does share information. It also takes positions on ballot measures and has endorsed the Tigard Police Services Levy, the Washington County Public Safety Levy, and the Washington County Cooperative Library Services' Levy Renewal on the May 19 ballot. The WEA Board of Directors voted to take a neutral stance on the Metro homeless measure (Measure 26-210).
As WEA moves forward, I don't know what the new normal will look like post-COVID-19, but I am certain we will come through this crisis more resilient, flexible, and hopefully stronger.
Brantley Dettmer is the Chief Operating Officer of Kaiser Permanente's Westside Medical Center in Hillsboro, and board president of the WEA. Vist the Westside Economic Alliance website at westsidealliance.org to learn more.
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