The COVID-19 pandemic has not stopped the University of Georgia from supporting nonprofits in their mission to build a better quality of life in their communities.

Prior to the pandemic, Georgia Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), Inc. had called on the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development, a unit of UGA Public Service and Outreach, to help create CASA’s new strategic plan.

The day-to-day changes brought on by COVID-19 forced the Fanning Institute to quickly adjust its approach.

Instead of meeting with CASA in-person and leading discussions and work sessions to create the new strategic plan, institute faculty and staff quickly shifted the process to a virtual format that can also allow the organization to adapt in the face of changing times.

“I was very pleased with the content, attendance and participation and I’m excited to see the compilation of results,” said Lauren Elder Hyatt, chair of Georgia CASA’s strategic planning team of the virtual shift. “I feel like we are well on our way to identifying and aligning around the values to drive Georgia CASA and the development of the long-range plan forward for the next few years.”

Transitioning the planning process to a virtual format and including work between each of the sessions has allowed the process to move forward on schedule and be completed on time in the fall.

“Nonprofit organizations play an indispensable role helping meet the needs of Georgians and addressing local challenges across our state,” said Matt Bishop, director of the Fanning Institute. “Now more than ever, we are committed to utilizing all of the tools and technologies at our disposal to make sure nonprofits can receive the organizational and leadership support they need.”

Utilizing virtual meeting platforms, independent work between the virtual sessions, online tools and other technologies, institute faculty can assist nonprofit organizations with a variety of services such as strategic planning, board development, succession planning and overall organizational development.

Prior to the pandemic, the Fanning Institute—led by senior public service faculty Maritza Soto Keen—was already working virtually with Girls Inc., a national nonprofit that supports girls’ development through direct service and advocacy, on an organizational diversity, equity and inclusion initiative.

“Maritza helped us craft an online survey and gather data from our affiliates and staff across the U.S. and Canada,” said Charlene Jackson, director of affiliate services for Girls Inc. “The response rates for the survey were incredibly high. She then provided us with an analysis of the data and, more importantly, helped us understand how to interpret that data to ensure we accurately captured everyone’s input.”

Meanwhile, the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, also a UGA Public Service and Outreach unit, called on the Fanning Institute for assistance in evaluating its board structure and by-laws in alignment with the garden’s current strategic plan.

“Having conversations about these issues with your board and stakeholders is something you would always rather do in person,” said Jennifer Cruse-Sanders, director of the State Botanical Garden. “However, Maritza was marvelous and made everyone feel comfortable with the virtual format. It was very successful and has allowed to us remain on schedule for implementing our strategic plan, despite the pandemic.”

The institute’s virtual services will allow nonprofits of all sizes to continue planning and developing the infrastructure they need to support their communities, said Bishop.

“While how we work looks different, our work hasn’t stopped,” said Bishop. “We remain committed to helping nonprofits develop the tools and resources necessary to address the challenges they see in their communities.”

Writer: Charlie Bauder, 706-244-6534, charlie.bauder@fanning.uga.edu
Contact: Maritza Soto Keen, 706-583-0122, soto@fanning.uga.edu