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Don’t Just Ask “How Can We Help?” Ask These Questions Instead.

March 30, 2020
By John Armato, Bob Axelrod, Josh Rogers, Leela Stake and Paul Vosloo

Many organizations are asking “What should we do to help in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis?” One of my most fundamental beliefs about the creative process is that a question is what an idea looks like just before it’s an idea. So, with input from my smart FleishmanHillard colleagues Bob Axelrod, Josh Rogers, Leela Stake, Paul Vosloo and Brian West, here are 10 prompts anyone from a small business to a global corporation can use to spark ideas that respond to the pandemic in a way that’s relevant to the need and authentic to the organization.

1) WHY ARE YOU HERE? — Start with your organization’s mission, vision, and values statements. What do they inherently guide you to do?

2) WHAT DO YOU HAVE? — What infrastructure does your organization have and does any of it lend itself to being of particular use to others right now? Warehousing? fleet/transportation/logistics? Sales force? Manufacturing? Office space? Parking lots? Communications platforms?

3) WHAT DO YOUR PEOPLE CARE ABOUT? — What is important to your employees right now? How/where do they want you to make a difference? What are they eager to do themselves?

4) WHO CAN YOU ENLIST? — Beyond employees, what relationships and stakeholders does your organization have that can be put to use? Supply chain? Business partners? Customers? Volunteers? Fans? How can you rally them to do something bigger than you can do on your own?

5) WHO CAN GUIDE YOU? — Conversely, what needs might those same stakeholders have of your organization? Ask your existing philanthropy partners in particular (grantees, volunteer organizations) how you can be a nimble and true partner at this time.

6) IS THE NEED INSIDE? — Now look at those same audiences and ask not only what can each do, but also what might each need? Is there a pain point in your own landscape that you can or should address?

7) WHERE DO YOU INTERSECT WITH HEALTHCARE RELIEF? — This is a healthcare crisis, so where is the most logical connection for your organization within the healthcare system? We’re all thinking about doctors and nurses right now. But hospitals have other workers keeping the doors open: security staff, maintenance and janitorial, cafeteria operations, etc. Is your organization in a position to be uniquely useful or relevant to one of those segments?

8) WHERE DO YOU INTERSECT WITH ECONOMIC RELIEF? — This is an economic crisis. So, the first idea people typically turn to is financial: Who can your organization give money to for emergency relief? It’s a good start, but look for other ways to frame financial need and opportunity to help:

  • What can your organization buy to help right now?
  • How can your organization invest in people to ensure they thrive when this is over?
  • How can your organization help those out of work earn money right now?
  • Are there debts your organization can forgive among suppliers or others who are hurting?
  • Can your organization loan people funds to bridge temporary needs?

9) WHO IS HURTING BEYOND THE OBVIOUS? – First responders and patients are the most critical audiences right now, but what if your organization isn’t well suited to help them in particular? Who else is hurting but is being overlooked during the crisis that may be especially relevant to your organization?

10) WHERE ARE YOU IN THE HIERARCHY OF NEEDS? WHERE IS THE CRISIS IN ITS PROGRESSION? — Remember Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Is your organization particularly well suited to help at one tier or another? Is your best role at the bottom immediately or somewhere higher over time? Today the most urgent needs are flattening the curve, protecting healthcare workers, and providing relief for basic needs. But right on the heels of that is economic survival for individuals and business continuity for all kinds of enterprises. Next will be recovery and rebuilding. Can your organization vary its response in tandem with the progression of the crisis itself?