5 Actions to Take Right Now to Combat COVID-19 Economic Fallout

This post was written by Rachael Cristine Woody, Owner and Consultant of Rachael Cristine Consulting LLC.

It’s undeniable that COVID-19 has brought with it the duel devastation of a pandemic and economic collapse. We’re experiencing a tragedy with no current end in sight, and with a government that has failed to pass any meaningful financial assistance to support people, nonprofits, or small businesses. According to an ongoing survey conducted by Americans for the Arts titled The Economic Impact of Coronavirus on the Arts and Culture Sector, the total financial impact of COVID to date is $1.3-billion; causing 62,000+ to be laid off and an additional 49,500+ furloughed.

Early Reports of Economic Fallout for Cultural Heritage Organizations in Oregon

For Oregon, we are already seeing the financial devastation play out with countless cultural heritage organizations struggling to survive. Early reports from the Cultural Advocacy Coalition (CAC-Oregon) in April and the Oregon Cultural Trust (OCT) in May capture alarming evidence of the economic fallout out that was now measured more than three months ago. Here’s the low-lights summary:

  • Organizations estimate their total revenue loss (from March and April) at $51 million.
  • Of the CAC respondents, 70% report the COVID-19 crisis as having a “severe impact” on their ability to operate, and 83% have already initiated financial mitigation efforts such as layoffs and furloughs. 
  • The OCT study confirms that many organizations have (at most) 2-3 months of financial reserves saved up.
  • Many of those organizations have exhausted their reserves and have already laid off 1,385 of 13,939 FTE (as of May).
  • Organizations are facing permanent closure.

Oregonians, and indeed much of the Pacific Northwest, are on the precipice of a catastrophic loss in cultural heritage.

The Oregon Heritage Commission Cuts Staff, Services, and Grant Funding

At the state-level the Oregon Heritage Commission announced on August 27, 2020 that they’ve laid off 30% of their staff, will reduce their state-wide services to cultural heritage organizations, and have frozen their grant programs funded by the lottery: Diamonds in the Rough, Preserving Oregon, Veterans and War Memorials, the Elisabeth Walton Potter Preservation Scholarship, and the Fellowship. (I wrote about this previously in my letter dated June 12, 2020 to the Director of OPRD, Governor Brown, and my local representatives).

What Can We Possibly Do?

I’m not going to lie; the state of our world is overwhelming. I know we’re tired of hearing the phrases “unprecedented” and “challenging” times, but it’s true. The swiftness, strength, and duration of the COVID-inspired economic damage cultural heritage organizations are experiencing is unprecedented. There’s not a lot any one of us can do to make a positive impact, and yet, there are actions we can take to help ourselves, our organization, and our field-at-large.

Top 5 Actions to Take

I’ve been following the surveys, statistics, advocacy calls, and resources produced since COVID-19 was recognized as a pandemic in the United States. From March to present I’ve worked with colleagues and the Society of American Archivists to help create and gather resources for our field. This work has led me to the identification of five actions we each can take in order to help combat the COVID-19 economic crisis facing archives, museums, and cultural heritage organizations.

  1. Learn where, why, and how money comes into your organization.
  2. Capture and communicate the value of your work.
  3. Acquire skills that can bring money into your organization and make you a valuable employee.
  4. Communicate with your representatives regularly.
  5. Seek and gather resources that support you and/or your organization.

1. Learn where, why, and how money comes into your organization.

No matter what your job is, it’s always a good idea to understand where your organization’s money is coming from and what you can do to strengthen each income stream. Once you identify income streams and the revenue generating activities that contribute to those streams, it’s time to critically examine what you do that supports those revenue generating activities, how you can innovate on those activities, and how you can create entirely new ones.

Over at Lucidea’s Think Clearly blog (where I’m a regular guest blogger) I’ve written a series of posts breaking down the American Alliance of Museums’ (AAM) TrendsWatch2020 report, a year focused entirely on financial sustainability. I’ve taken each income stream identified by AAM, provided a summary, and have added my recommendations for how to adapt and increase the health of these income streams in this COVID-19 economic reality. While this report is focused on museums, every type of organization’s operating budget is composed of an amalgamation of earned income, charitable income, government income, and financial capital.

Here are the posts to learn more:

2. Capture and communicate the value of your work.

While it’s smart to tie your work activities to how they support your organization’s revenue generating activities—and therefore, their income streams—it’s just as important to capture and quantify the value of your work that indirectly supports revenue. As a follow up to the Committee on Public Awareness (under the Society of American Archivists) webinar Deriving Value from Collections in the Time of Corona (COVID-19), I created a webinar that takes a deeper dive into Strategies for How to Capture and Communicate the Value of Collection Work. The webinar delivers a framework to define the value of your work, discusses mechanisms for capturing value, and offers strategies for communicating the value of your work to your boss, your board, your fellow staff, and your community stakeholders.

For more information on this webinar, to download a copy of the slide deck, and to view a summary of the Q&A, please see this post.

3. Acquire skills that can bring money into your organization and make you a valuable employee.

Grant money can show up as both charitable and government income streams, and unfortunately many of our Pacific Northwest archives, museums, and cultural heritage organizations rely heavily on grants to fund projects and people that the annual budget doesn’t support. If you’ve never written a grant before, or you’re looking to increase your skills—it’s time.

For those just starting out with grant writing I recommend joining my Get into Grants mini-course. This mini-course is available for free to my colleagues, because: 2020. Get into Grants provides introductory grants information specific to archives, museums, and cultural heritage organizations. The following topics are covered: income streams, funder and grant types, where to find grants, how to choose the right grant opportunity to apply for, common application elements to prepare for, tips to succeed, and proposal pitfalls to avoid. The course comes with video instruction, a copy of the slide deck, and an assortment of tip sheets, checklists, and templates to support your ongoing grant work. Whether you’re new to grants or just need a refresher, this mini-course can quickly get you up to speed with grant fundamentals specific to our field.

Check out this video overview for more details:

You can sign up for the free mini-course here: https://members.rachaelcristine.com/store.

If you need something at the next level then I recommend my full course Going from Zero to Winning with Grants. The Going from Zero to Winning with Grants digital course is based off of my popular, nationally touring grant workshop, and will teach you how to create a competitive grant project.

For a peek into the course, please check out my video below:

This course is composed of six modules and 18 lessons that deliver grant strategy, exercises, tools, and templates. By the end of the course you’ll have learned the building blocks of a competitive grant idea, how to grow your grant idea to address multiple needs effectively, how to define outcomes and deliverables that attract grant reviewer attention, and how to build a project framework from your winning grant idea. The course provides video instruction and each lesson contains a slide deck, audio-only download, and worksheets. You can view the course details here: https://members.rachaelcristine.com/store.

Finally, I invite you to grab a free e-copy of my book A Survivor’s Guide to Museum Grant Writing to help you with your grant work.

Mastering grant writing is so important for our field, especially when facing financial crises. This course will give you the foundation you need to confidently go from zero ideas to a winning grant application. Grant writing is a skill you can take with you wherever you go. And trust me, it’s incredibly valuable.

4. Communicate with your government representatives regularly.

Actions 1-3 focused on what you can do within your organization. Now it’s time to think externally. We have to communicate with our government representatives regularly in order to communicate organizational and industry-wide needs, and advocate for the resources required to successful navigate the current COVID-19 economic fallout. As of this writing, congressional aid package negotiations have stalled and there are two requests related to our field that should be advocated for:

Library Stabilization Fund Act

The LSFA funds would help keep nearly 370,000 library workers on the job, defray costs related to safe re-opening, and support a range of library services to millions of patrons, including high-speed internet access and digital literacy training. You can read more via the Society of American Archivists here.

Museum Pandemic Relief and FY2021 Funding

This request to two-pronged: 1. Approve another round of pandemic relief funding ($6-billion) to be distributed via the Institute of Library and Museum Services (IMLS), expand existing pandemic programs such as PPP, and increase charitable giving incentives; and 2. Increases FY 2021 funding to $382.7-million to IMLS, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Endowment for the Arts. You can read more via the American Alliance of Museums here and here.

Resources to Get Started

Our collective strength relies of each of us advocating for our archives, museums, and cultural heritage organizations–and that advocacy work includes contacting your representatives. Need help getting started? Check out this post for how to contact your rep and what to say. I’ve also created a fill-in-the-blank template you can download here. Remember: Being in regular contact with our representatives about our funding needs is a necessary part of increasing our financial resilience.

5. Seek and gather resources that support you and/or your organization.

Finally, it’s important to gather all the resources available to you to help you weather this crisis. Below I’ve compiled a list of resources to help both your organization and you.

Tracking Layoff/Furlough Surveys:

Contingent Archival Workers and COVID-19

Archives Staff Impact During COVID-19

Museum Staff Impact During COVID-19

Resources for People:

Archives Workers Emergency Fund and Museum Workers Relief Fund are fundraising and distributing emergency aid to archives and museum workers whose employment has been impacted by COVID-19.

Resources for Organizations:

AAM’s Strategies for Short-term Financial Survival, a collection of resources and information to help you create short-term strategies for navigating the coming weeks and months.

AAM’s Financial Relief and Resources, a living list with updates made regularly. The resources listed are to help museums develop short-term and long-term fiscal strategies to keep your museum afloat.

Rachael Cristine Wood Photo

Rachael Cristine Woody has 15 years of experience in archives, with expertise in creating archival programs with community collections. She is the owner of Rachael Cristine Consulting, a firm that provides services to archives, museums, and cultural heritage organizations. She received her Master of Science in Library and Information Science with a concentration in Archives Management from Simmons University. Previously she revived the archives at the Freer|Sackler Museum of the Smithsonian Institution and launched the Oregon Wine History Archive at Linfield College. Woody specializes in establishing collection programs, assessment and planning for historical collections, teaching grant acquisition strategy, and implementing digital collection management platforms. Woody is active in Northwest Archivists and the Society of American Archivists’ Committee on Public Awareness, the Ad-Hoc Salary Transparency Working Group, and the Independent Archivists group; and is an alumna of the Archives Leadership Institute. Additionally, she led the creation of the Archivist-in-Residence pilot program at Northwest Archivists and is a staunch advocate for the value of archivists. To receive first access to Rachael Woody’s workshops, webinars, and other free resources, please sign up for her newsletter here.

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