Children’s Bureau of Southern California (Children’s Bureau) is one of the most trusted and innovative child and family services organizations in California and provides at-risk children and their parents with the support, tools and resources they need to be successful. Children’s Bureau offers a range of programs for children and families and provides training and technical support to other organizations, and through its community initiatives, it increases social connectedness, community mobilization and access to needed services.
Demonstrating resourcefulness, teamwork and flexibility, Children’s Bureau has converted (within a week due to COVID-19) its 500-person workforce – spread across 20 locations – to 95-percent remote working. I spoke with Gayle Whittemore, Children’s Bureau’s Chief Financial Officer, to learn how they managed this impressive feat.
Q: Did Children’s Bureau have an existing business continuity plan that was able to be deployed and tailored?
Unfortunately, Children’s Bureau found itself unprepared with an adequate business continuity plan, so we have been improvising and learning as we go. We are using this crisis as a means to document the myriad decisions that we have needed to work through, such as FAQs for our staff and clients, trainings for a remote workforce and how to manage remote workers, staffing decisions around program closures and facilities, as well as IT-related procedures.
Q: What new technologies did you have to implement to enable staff to continue working and communicating? Why did you choose those particular tools and how were they rolled out to staff in such a short time?
Thankfully Children’s Bureau invested heavily over the last few years in our IT infrastructure by:
- Increasing bandwidth at all of our sites
- Expanding staffing in the IT department
- Developing network infrastructure improvements
- Adding VoIP phones at most of our sites
- Encrypting company-owned cell phones with MaaS360 software to manage the cell phones
- Rolling out BlueJeans teleconferencing capabilities and telepsychiatry
- Implementing Office 365
These herculean efforts have truly paid off because otherwise we would be in a world of hurt today.
However, we still found ourselves scrambling to move our 500 staff (across 20 sites) to work 95 percent remotely over the past week. While we had many staff on laptops, we needed to roll out about 60 more laptops to accommodate everyone. And we were scheduled to roll out Microsoft Teams this fall to our staff but ended up rolling that out over one single weekend. Currently Microsoft Teams is being used internally for team meetings, chats, sharing of documents, staff supervisions and generally staying connected. Microsoft Teams is working well for us.
For our client-facing staff, we have had to look at other alternatives besides Microsoft Teams to be compatible with the technology of our clients. To continue to serve our clients, we have considered:
At this time, we are pushing the use of Zoom for its ease and low cost.
Q: How are you responding to, or anticipating, questions from your staff?
We immediately set up a multi-disciplinary task force that has been meeting regularly to brainstorm around issues and obstacles that staff are raising. Our Executive Leadership is meeting regularly during the day and, if needed, in the early evening. We set up a Children’s Bureau COVID-19 email that all of our staff communications go out through, and we are doing daily communications at 3:30 p.m. Further, our CEO e-blasts a warm and encouraging email to all of our staff each morning.
We have also issued FAQs around the use of technology, which have been helpful. From a human resource perspective, our in-house staff trainer has done an excellent job of developing webinars on managing remote workers for our leaders as well as how to work successfully remotely. He is also converting all of the in-person trainings to webinars and posting these onto our Children’s Bureau University (CBU) site.
Q: What other changes have you had to make, for example to programming and fundraising?
We have closed our preschool program, but most of our other programs will continue. Unfortunately, we have already canceled three of our six major fundraising events which is a loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars. One event was supposed to happen on March 15, and thankfully, many of our sponsors and ticket holders are just donating the funds without requesting a refund.
Q: If you are scaling back programs, how are you managing communications with your funders, particularly government funders?
We are in communication with all of our funders through select members of our leadership teams and trying to stay on top of changing guidance for service delivery and funding.
Q: What is next in your list of priorities?
A: Now that the heavy lifting has been done to move our staff to remote working, we need to regroup in several areas:
- Federal, state and local legislation on COVID-19 relief efforts: We now need to concentrate on our human resources and policies and procedures for staff and their families that are being personally impacted by COVID-19. This is such a fluid area right now and a lot to digest quickly. Our child and family service agency CFO Roundtable forum is holding a call jointly with CFO and HR leaders this coming week. We will probably continue weekly calls as long as needed and have agreed to share resources between us.
- Monitoring productivity and access to clients: In this time of great need in our communities, maintaining – if not expanding – our services is of paramount importance. We are developing new real-time reporting to assist with this oversight and will triage any areas in need as quickly as we can.
- Financial forecasting and 30-60-90 days contingency plans: We are trying to get a handle on our “what if” scenarios as the landscape continues to change. We are reforecasting our financial projections and cash flows as best we can with the information available to us and are in communication with our Finance Chair and Board regularly. We are also in the process of temporarily increasing our line of credit and researching debt-financing options.
Q: Do you have any asks of others?
A: The CFO Roundtable and our Association groups are a close network of agencies that are used to helping each other. Now more than ever we need to pool our resources and share tools and information. This will be significant to ensuring we come out of this crisis viable and sustainable for the communities we serve and that now need us even more.
If your nonprofit organization is looking for assistance surrounding COVID-19, please reach out to the GHJ Nonprofit Practice so we can support you.