“Don’t Waste a Good Crisis” – Source disputed, see note below*
By now, we’ve all gotten a lot of advice to help nonprofit and philanthropic leaders like yourselves make it through this tough time. I’ll share a few recent tips I’ve especially liked.
Focus on What Really Matters
Focus on your organization’s vision of a positive future—for both your clients and your organization. Now that we’re past last month’s sudden need to pivot in a hurry to new ways of doing business, we should lean into our strategic plans, according to such bloggers and thought leaders as consultant/coach Michael Hyatt. In a April 13 BoardSource newsletter, Hyatt recounts the inspiring story of the Apollo 13 mission–how after the spacecraft malfunctioned in unexpected ways, NASA’s control center leader in Houston maintained a razor-sharp focus on saving the astronauts’ lives (failure was not an acceptable option). This single-mindedness enabled the ground team to innovate creative solutions and brought the astronauts back to earth safely.
A mid-April Zoom “luncheon” panel on Strategic Thinking and Fundraising, co-sponsored by the Bay Area’s Development Executives Roundtable and Association of Fundraising Professionals, featured two nonprofit leaders and two long-time strategy consultants to nonprofits. Some of the great takeaways for me were:
- During the COVID19 crisis, it’s critical to keep your eye on what’s important rather than what’s urgent (don’t recall who said this but all the panelists agreed);
- Panelist Laura Sears, Co-founder and Director of Strategy & Improvement of $1.1M Vida Verde, said that the organization’s deeply embedded strategic plan has been “both a compass and a comfort.” VV’s leaders have been able to “overlay the lens of the crisis” onto their strategy and innovate their responses while staying true to their core programming;
- Panelist Debi Harris, Development Director of Public Advocates, noted that her $4M organization has a “long-time culture of strategic planning” and just finished a three-year strategic plan in January. “However, none of the scenarios we envisioned included a viral pandemic,” she laughed. Although 2021 is PA’s 50th anniversary, the group’s leaders are prioritizing core programming over anniversary celebrations, which are clearly less central to their mission. As the lead fundraiser for the group, she remarked, “We need to assure our stakeholders that we’re holding steady on our mission work.” and
- Strategy consultant Eric Ryan urged smaller groups without a current strategic plan to “hold fast to your organizational values” to get you through the crisis.
Maintain an Equity Lens and Continue Self-Reflection
CompassPoint Project Director Kad Smith wrote a thoughtful piece about the importance of continuing to push back against the divisive attributes of dominant white culture, including perfectionism and the right to comfort.
“We should be working in coordinated ways to solve problems that threaten the livelihoods of the communities we are a part of. But that doesn’t mean “staying busy”, he says. “Rejecting perfectionism right now is an act of compassion and extension of grace. As adrienne maree brown says, ‘What we pay attention to, grows.’ If we continue to tend to a false sense of perfection being achievable, we will only further set our folks up for failure.”
Smith also challenged the notion of comfort in our responses to COVID19. “We all have a right to emotional and psychological safety—especially during times like these—but that doesn’t mean we can’t and shouldn’t be challenged outside of our comfort zones,” he states. “Now is an opportunity to demonstrate how growth and transformation can be catalyzed by discomfort. Your call to leadership should always be about those you choose to lead. How can you sit with the discomfort you feel and use it to build individual, interpersonal, and organizational resiliency?”
I couldn’t agree more and offer these final thoughts from a philanthropy consultant.
Innovate and Don’t Go Back to the “Old Normal”
Long-time philanthropy consultant Kris Putnam-Wakerly, in a free webinar in April, presented examples of adaptation and innovation by large and small US foundations. Featuring concepts from her new book, Delusional Altruism, she talked about the importance of increasing agility (proactive) and creatively adapting (reactive) to any disruption, such as an economic downtown, natural disaster or public health crisis.
She ended the webinar with an impassioned plea to philanthropists who are developing new ways of giving in response to the COVID19 crisis. She asked, “Can we continue to be adaptive and innovative, even when we’re not in a crisis?” She urged foundations to “seal water-tight doors” behind them as they emerge from the lockdown, so they continue their creative ways of doing business and don’t fall back on their comfortable old ways. Worth a listen. Register on Kris’ site to watch the recording.
*Footnote: This is a quote often attributed to Churchill. But may be more recent and from a completely different source and context. According to the website Freakonomics, in 1976 M. F. Weiner wrote in the journal Medical Economics, “Don’t Waste a Crisis — Your Patient’s or Your Own.” Weiner meant by this that a medical crisis can be used to improve aspects of personality, mental health or lifestyle.