Social and Emotional Planning for Nonprofits and Head Start

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

This is a call for planning, 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.

Several days ago I published a blog about planning to address safety and physical needs. Today I focus on planning for social and emotional needs.



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

I am, by nature, a planner. In my personal life I have daily lists, monthly goals, annual plans and five-year plans. I even have a plan that sketches out an annual reading schedule. One of my favorite aspects of my consulting practice is guiding non-profit organizations and Head Start programs through a strategic planning process.

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.


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.

Importantly – have we thought about how to implement these strategies beyond the current crisis?All effective plans begin with an analysis and self-assessment. What do we have? What do we need? What is working? Planning for the pandemic begins with ascertaining how long the social distancing will be in effect – and how long will our economy be virtually closed?

Importantly – have we thought about how to implement these strategies beyond the current crisis?

Planning Tasks

Plan Task 1: Create a resource listing of social and emotional resources for children, families, and staff. Include this on the website and Facebook page.

Plan Task 2: Determine ways to celebrate resilience and resourcefulness.

Plan Task 3: Create DVDs that provide specific and practical resources for exercise, meditation, mindfulness and yoga. Draw on the expertise of your staff

Plan Task 4: Develop a communication and social connection plan for clients and staff. Ensure all staff are participating with each other and with clients.

Plan Task 5: Assign some reading material. Have virtual discussions.

Plan 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?

Self-Care for Leaders

Up to this point, I have focused on the social and emotional needs of others. Leaders, in order to be 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. Without the hope of a possible future, we would not thrive.

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


Next Steps

How do we engage our community through cognitive and academic strategies? There are innumerable ways for engaging young children through on-line learning and home made obstacles courses. Older children and youth are facing the challenges of learning on-line. At the same time, low-income and other historically disadvantaged individuals and groups are further isolated. The next post will address some of these issues and point to valuable resources.


Much of planning for persistence aims at stabilizing our community. As we strengthen our collaboration and communication partnerships, we need a long-term plan to maintain these strong relationships and begin to collectively advocate for social policies that ensure our children, families and staff have access to those strategies and resources that allow us to live in a safe and nurturing community.

Review your plan and incorporate what's useful. I look forward to hearing from you. What is working in your community? How had planned for an emergency? How have these plans worked? Any resources or guidelines that might be helpful, please share.

Stay safe, stay well, stay physically distant and socially connected.