Creative Collaboration Through Crisis: Bright Ideas for Doing Good Work Well

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–by Paul Diaz, Vice President Policy, Public Interest Registry

Conducting the business of doing good is necessary, but it’s not always easy. COVID-19 has presented tough trials for mission-based organizations, including the shift to virtual work, managing events online, and raising funds in a new financial landscape. If your nonprofit or good-for-the-world business has struggled this year, you are not alone. 

The good news is that adversity offers an upside, according to this piece by Steve Zimmerman in the Harvard Business Review, “The challenge can feel overwhelming, and some of the changes will be painful,” Zimmerman admits. “Nevertheless, this moment also represents an opportunity for you and your nonprofit: to reinvent who you are, to better focus on your mission, and to better serve your constituents.” 

The challenges presented by COVID-19 have spurred innovation among mission-based organizations. As we start a new year, we’ve pulled together some of their bright ideas to help your team stay together and function well.


Stay Plugged In, Near or Far… 

Maintaining good communication is critical in any crisis and even more so during the pandemic. Every member of your team must be equipped to do their job, whether virtually or in-person. Take note of some tips from .ORG leaders:

  • “Virtual work is a big part of our engagement,” says Celeste Mergens, Founder and CEO of Days for Girls, winner of PIR’s 2020 .ORG of the Year. “We use Trello for onboarding and working meeting agendas. As a shared agenda tool, it reduces non-urgent emails, instead adding a digital note card to reference at our next meeting. Zoom is our go-to for large group calls. We even hold a monthly global all-staff meeting [on the platform].” For more information about virtual meeting options, this piece from offers a helpful rundown.
  • Some mission-based organizations are returning to their offices. Maintaining a safe environment is essential to facilitating confident collaboration. Consult with local health authorities on how to safely use your space and improve ventilation and make hand sanitizer and masks plentiful and accessible. The Cleveland Clinic,, offers these helpful recommendations.
  • Other non-profits and good-for-the-world businesses have maintained in-person meetings throughout the crisis. Rob Scheer, Founder and CEO of Comfort Cases,, says, “We have managed to stay connected as a team because we [are] considered an essential organization. So, our staff (safely) comes into the office to fulfill orders, answer phones, and stay engaged with our partners.… What’s truly motivating about our mission is that we are helping youth in foster care and, during COVID-19, this has even more meaning to the kids we serve.”

Check In Regularly…

Creating frequent occasions to share experiences and feelings can be a sustaining force for mission-based organizations, enhancing productivity as well as employee health, according to this report by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), “Connecting with co-workers is simply good for employees and good for business,” says Dr. Christine Porath, the article’s author and a professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. “Research from 20,000 employees across a wide range of jobs in Sweden, Finland, Germany, Poland and Italy showed that if an employee … feels disconnected from a manager, that employee is more likely to get sick or miss work…” Here are some ideas from .ORG experts on how best to touch base:

  • It’s important to take the emotional temperature of your team during trying times and offer support, according to Beth Kanter,, author of The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting with Social Media to Drive Change. She advises in this blog post to host a “CCC” or “COVID-Chat-Check-In,” using prompts to get your team talking. 
  • Executive Director Melanie Lockwood Herman and Project Manager Whitney Claire Thomey of the Nonprofit Risk Management Center recommend emphasizing kindness in this piece on “Compassionate leadership brings with it a host of positive effects,” they say. “Now, more than ever, the shift to conscientious caring at the leadership level is proving that this method of leadership goes far beyond just a nicety.” 
  • And, it’s important to take time to let your staff toot their own horns. “My favorite is when team members ‘Claim Our Ground,’ when we call out accomplishments for the month,” says Days for Girls Founder and CEO Celeste Mergens. “High performance teams can rush onto the next accomplishment without taking note, but recognizing achievements is an important key to having energy to do more.”


… Don’t Forget the Fun 

Whether it’s singing happy birthday or playing a harmless office prank, fun is as important to weathering COVID-19 as an umbrella in a downpour. Ways to spur camaraderie and raise morale include:

  • Getting gift cards for a food delivery service and treating your team to a delicious meal that you can enjoy together virtually. Try pastries and hot chocolate or deliver a personal pizza with staff members’ preferred toppings.
  • Celebrating team spirit. Send some work-from-home swag to support your squad. T-shirts, tumblers, or calendars with your organization’s logo will make everyone feel the love.
  • And, a dance party never hurt anyone! Put on some great music and let your team’s best moves fly on Zoom. Elizabeth Pistole, Founder and CEO of Dancing Divas and Dudes says: “When we dance, we express our own emotions and experience the creative expression of others. Without having that in-person experience, it has been difficult .… We let each dancer be the ‘star of the show’ [on our Zoom conferences] for a few minutes.”


Mission-based teams have, indeed, been stars during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Noted statesman, polymath, and civil activist, Benjamin Franklin, famously had something to say about that: “Out of adversity comes opportunity.”