How to Meet Social Needs for Nonprofits (and Yourself)

I began this series by asking you, “How can we plan for a pandemic?”

This is a call for planning, even while we are in the middle of an emergency. This is precisely when we need to set some time aside for careful reflection and planning. It is also a call to examine the social and emotional needs of our clients, our staff, and even ourselves.


My experience in the non-profit world - and in Head Start - suggests that we jump into overdrive during a crisis. We work tirelessly and relentlessly to connect as many people to as many resources as we can. In doing so we often neglect two necessary processes: planning and self-care.

If we are to thrive after our world returns to normal, we need to ensure our communities are calm and optimistic and that requires a plan. Further, it requires us to be calm and optimistic as well.

Social and Emotional Needs

Online activities have emerged as a way of easing isolation and reducing stress. Both online and telephone apps make exercise, meditation, mindfulness, and yoga easily accessible. Are we communicating these resources to our staff and clients? Can we help our clients and staff pay? Are we participating?

How have we planned to meet the social and emotional needs of our communities who do not have access to a computer, laptop, cell phone, Wifi? What about DVDs? Perhaps we could create DVDs with programs for exercise, meditation, mindfulness, or yoga. If we haven’t already can we do so now? Could we set up a place to record, enlist the help of staff, and capitalize on their expertise?

Perhaps our DVDs could include calming activities for children, including information about how to talk to our children about a pandemic without contributing to the panic. We could also include information and practical strategies on positive discipline.

We can also include advice and resources for caregivers who may be close to panic themselves.

Communication and Connection

Beyond providing information our clients and our staff, how have we planned our communication and social connection strategies? Have we assigned our staff a small but specific number of clients to contact by text daily and by phone every few days? We may have a limited number of social service staff – how have we enlisted other staff to help in social contacts?

Have we planned for social connections with our staff? We can assign people to teams who text daily and talk frequently. We can assign our manager and leaders to text daily and talk frequently with direct reports. What about a virtual reading group? I recommend The Book of Joy or Broadcasting Happiness.

Planning Tasks

Planning Task 1

Create a resource listing of social and emotional resources for children, families, and staff. Include this on the website and Facebook page.

Planning Task 2

Determine ways to celebrate resilience and resourcefulness

Planning Task 3

Create DVDs that provide specific and practical resources for exercise, meditation, mindfulness, and yoga. Draw on the expertise of your staff

Planning Task 4

Develop a communication and social connection plan for clients and staff. Ensure all staff are participating with each other and with clients.

Planning Task 5

Assign some reading material. Have virtual discussions.

Planning Task 6

Do we need a communications manager to oversee this? To help create calming and upbeat messages? Should this be immediate or a long-term strategy?

In your plan for your organization, your clients, community, and staff – did you plan for the social and emotional needs of yourself?

Did You Plan for Yourself?

Up to this point, I have focused on the social and emotional needs of others. Effective leaders must also take care of themselves. As a Head Start leader, I often neglected myself – telling myself “when I have time, when the community assessment is completed, when the refunding grant is submitted.” Slowly, but surely, I became less effective. Through a series of unfortunate events I began searching for ways to regain my balance. It was important for me, my family, my team.

Tom Rath, the best-selling author of Eat, Move, Sleep has excellent resources on the foundations of self-care. Invest in yourself and create a personalized eat, move, sleep plan. Building on this healthy foundation, it is important for you to have recovery practices. Gratitude journals, meditation practices, yoga, breathing exercises, all are important for your staff, and are just as necessary for you as a leader. BJ Fogg, provides an effortless way of creating and maintaining healthy habits and calming techniques, even in the middle of a pandemic, through a strategic use of Tiny Habits.

The best habit ever: eat a small piece of dark chocolate every morning.

Maintaining optimism in the face of adversity, what Hemingway called ‘grace under pressure’ is the mark of a true leader. There are multiple resources on happiness and optimism. Happiness and optimism are key resources in a time of crisis. Being optimistic does not mean ignoring reality. Being optimistic means knowing that together we can survive this. Having hope for a better future means we will thrive.

Stay safe, stay well, stay connected.