What’s Your Nonprofit’s Pandemic Panera Plan?


Take the lead from some inventive businesses, and ask yourself: during this pandemic, what is my nonprofit’s Panera Plan – how can my nonprofit organization take stock of what we already have and offer it in an entirely new way, based on market demand?


Businesses Have Gotten Inventive; Nonprofits Can Do the Same


Now that we are about 60 days into lockdown, there are a few phrases I’d like to banish. These include “new normal” and “pivot.” Personally, I’m feeling a little pivoted-out! That said… indulge me for a few moments while I share some thoughts about mini-pivots and bigger-pivots:


I boisterously applaud any organizations that have taken their offerings and put them online. Many of you are serving a need, staying true to your organizational mission, and keeping yourself relevant (while also keeping your staff employed, which is so important for our mental, physical, and fiscal health right now – thank you!). You are doing incredible work, and you are doing it at head-spinning speed. Bravo!


That said: I would still categorize these moves as “mini-pivots.” I’m reminded of what I see going on with remote learning, now that most American primary and secondary schools and colleges are closed down. When an educator delivers the same lecture online that she would be delivering face-to-face if school was still open, it’s a leap forward in online learning for the educator and the school, but it does not represent the best and most innovative approaches to online learning.


Don’t get me wrong – this happened so quickly, and under such stressful conditions… it’s a miracle that any online learning is happening at all! I cannot bow down low enough to my daughter’s teachers and administrators. It’s been a herculean effort, and I do see some real learning and skill building happening with my daughter. I think that even the educators and administrators would admit that they are looking forward to having more of a runway to remote learning for the fall semester, so they can plan mindfully, think about equitable delivery of learning, and get some training and tools to really help them make the most of online learning so they can deliver content in new, meaningful ways.


What is a “Bigger-Pivot”?


If there are lot of mini-pivots out there, what is a bigger-pivot? For example: I’ve been inspired by the story of Panera Bread. Like lots of restaurants around the country, they have offered contactless pickup and delivery, and they still are offering catering. What strikes me about Panera is their new grocery service.


According to this article in Forbes:


Instead of customers fighting for delivery slots on Fresh Direct, Instacart and Amazon, the cafe chain is directing most of its 2,000 locations to sell essentials — milk, yogurt, tomatoes, avocados — through a program called Panera Grocery. The effort promises delivery within 40 minutes and is available through Panera’s own delivery network of 10,000 drivers, contactless, as well as at drive-thrus, locations with pick-up, and on Grubhub.

Panera thought about what assets it had in place, determined whether or not those assets are in demand, and created a whole new dimension to its business. It’s not a cure-all; Panera still has had to close around 300 cafes. But they are keeping people employed, keeping their customers in tomatoes and bread, and making a (new) name for themselves.


Another one of my favorite bigger-pivot stories is Boober Eats. Yes, you read that correctly. Boober Eats (but, keep reading – the name will change). When the Lucky Devil Lounge in Portland, Oregon – a strip club – had to close down, the owner was dismayed that all of his employees were out of work: not just the dancers, but the cooks and other food-related staff (Lucky Devil Lounge serves food), bouncers and security guards, bookkeeping staff, cleaners, managers, and more. The owner realized he could keep money coming in and keep people employed by offering a food delivery service, where people could order food from the Lounge’s menu, and two strippers (wearing clothing, and accompanied by a security guard) would deliver the food to people’s doorsteps. News of this business offering went viral, and Boober Eats was booming! Sadly, Uber (the car service) was not amused. They filed a cease-and-desist to force the delivery business to change its name, but the business still is going strong.


What do these bigger-pivots have in common? They moved beyond the huge effort of taking an in-person offering and moving it online. They asked bigger questions about business assets and market demand, and they created something new. In other words, the owner of Lucky Devil Lounge could have just had his dancers performing online (perhaps keeping their clothes on, depending on internet guidelines for such things!). Panera could have just stuck with curbside pickup for sandwiches and salads. Both of these businesses asked: What else? 


What Could a Bigger-Pivot Look Like for Your Nonprofit?


Does your nonprofit have something that your community needs, even if it’s not the group you traditionally serve? Do you have storefront, public-facing space that could be used for something else? Are there items in your storage facility that are languishing because you have not been able to hold public programs, and are these items that could be used in a different way, by different people? Does your nonprofit use technology that others could use? Has your nonprofit figured out a novel way to deliver services that could be used by other businesses, or even local government?


What is your Pandemic Panera Plan? 


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