Driving Success During Difficult Times

Featured, Lessons from Leaders

Covid-19 had a devastating impact on many businesses and forced leaders to re-evaluate their program models. It was no different for many nonprofits, especially those that relied on community support. Learn how Nicole Morris, Executive Director of Women Giving Back (WGB), an organization that provides quality clothing at no cost to women and children in crisis, pivoted her organization’s programming during difficult times.

How has your mission and .ORG grown over the past 15 years?

Women Giving Back has grown at a phenomenal rate in all areas. The number of women we served went from 100 a month to over 1,000 a month due to increased awareness of our programs and the economic climate. Our budget and staff has tripled in the last 3 years. 

How did Covid-19 impact your growth and what steps did you take to continue to operate successfully?

With the COVID-19 emergency declaration in mid-March 2020, we closed our physical premises in Sterling, Virginia for health and safety, dramatically reduced our on-site volunteer pool, and pivoted operations by converting half of our 8,600 sq ft warehouse into an emergency food distribution center to address the immediate crisis in our community. Instead of opening our boutique for women to shop, we launched a Saturday drive-thru service where anyone in need picked up food with no questions asked. From March through June, we provided over 117,400 pounds of food and supplies to 21,928 people, including 10,913 children. We also distributed 91,176 packages of necessities like diapers, baby formula, and feminine hygiene products. 

It was never a question of can we stay open, but how we do it. By keeping a pulse on where the biggest need was, we continued to see our clients and expand our services.

In June 2020, we wound down the food distribution center and drive-thru services and launched a new diaper pantry program to allow us to address the high demand for diapers in our community. This pantry is still operating and has become a critical part of our programming with over one million diapers distributed to families in need.

How are you building back your volunteer base following the shutdown?

During the shutdown, we had a limited pool of volunteers in order to keep everyone healthy and safe. Most were family members of staff. It is still amazing looking back on how much we accomplished with so few. However, as we re-opened it was critical to re-engage our community. 

Hiring a Volunteer Engagement Specialist was the key to bringing back in volunteers. Also, since we never shut our doors, we were diligent with our Covid health protocols which encouraged more community members to feel safe coming back sooner. We are still working on getting our pool of business and corporate groups back in as many companies have transitioned to a remote work model. 

But we will be here when they are ready!

How have your relationships with partners been key to your success, especially in times of uncertainty?

It was just so heartwarming to see all of our partners wanting to help during Covid. The outpouring of community support was what enabled us to feed so many of our neighbors every week. Even when their own businesses were struggling to stay afloat, they were still finding ways to help us restock our food and diaper pantry so we could continue our efforts. 

Prior to 2020, our relationships with partners included regular communication, easy to access online partner resources, and clear, mutual commitment to the community. The foundation of trust across our partnerships was a bedrock at a time when many struggled to stay connected during an extremely challenging time. 

 Why did you choose .ORG for your domain?

Switching our site to a .ORG was one of the first things I advocated for when I came to WGB 6 years ago.  It builds our credibility as a charity and increases fundraising opportunities because it is a trusted domain. I firmly believe all not-for-profits should make this a best practice to grow their organization.

Women Giving Back’s mission is to support women and children in crisis as a first step to stability by providing quality clothing at no cost, assisted by a caring and committed community. 

They serve more than 24,000 women and children in need every year and over the past 16 years have nearly 5,000 dedicated volunteers and 1,300 referral partners throughout the Greater Washington Metro area. WGB programs have grown to meet the expanding and evolving needs of the community it serves.