To be 100% clear, we believe that every person who can be vaccinated should get vaccinated. We stand with science and public health. We stand for health and the economy as one and the same. We stand with our whole community and say: “we care.”
We also understand that health disparity is deeply rooted in our country and in our state. This means that while we all might be floating in the same ocean we were never sitting in the same boat. At our last advisory board meeting, nonprofit and philanthropic leaders from around the state engaged in conversation on this topic. We reminded ourselves that while some are choosing to be unvaccinated, many others want the shot but have difficulty accessing it. Let me share one example of thousands – not to stereotype but to help us rediscover our compassion if it has, indeed, been lost.
A single parent, who is a minimum wage worker holding down two jobs finally has their kids back in school. The vaccine is available but almost entirely during the work and school day. Neither of their employers gives paid time off to get the vaccine, and there is no vaccine access at work or school. If they do manage to get a shot and end up with side effects like body aches or a headache, there is no paid time off and no one to care for their kids. If they or their kids need a day to recover, they might have to miss work at both jobs and lose their pay, which makes life harder in too many other ways. Now, remember that this person is your neighbor, your family member, your friend, a person in your community who is trying very hard to do the right thing to protect themselves and you.
This story should remind us that not all those who are unvaccinated are raising their voices in protest. Many are like this parent, who faces many barriers to getting the shot. These are the voices we need to hear if we are going to find our way out of this pandemic. This is not someone else’s work. It is YOUR work and MY work to get everyone the vaccine who wants it. Think you can’t make a difference? Here are three ways every nonprofit can play a role in promoting vaccine awareness and vaccine access in your community:
Is it ever enough? This is the question that drives me, haunts me, inspires me, and motivates me more than any other question in these times. I feel it most acutely as I watch and read and learn about what is happening around the world and in our own country and in my community. I feel it as we enter into this next phase of the pandemic and acknowledge that this is not a temporary way of life like many of us thought in 2020, but a way of being that is likely to be measured in years not months.
What can I do? How can I contribute? Where will it matter? Is any of that enough?
I feel these questions bubbling up for me about my own actions, and I feel it for our organization. I also know I am not alone with my questions. I see it in the faces of so many people across the Zoom screens, and I hear it in the voices of nonprofit board members and staff as they contemplate their next personal or organizational step. It looks like a wide-eyed and closed-mouth plea for confirmation or celebration or even encouragement that the step they are about to take is enough. Frankly, their faces say that one more step would suck all the air and all the joy and all the energy out of any reason to do the work at all. It is in these moments that I think we are collectively finding the balance of “just enough” to sustain ourselves and our teams.
It isn’t hard to guess why intense feelings of simultaneous urgency and exhaustion accompany the “enough” question. This personal and leadership question is part of a larger reckoning we are seeing across the country. News headlines and researched reports tell us that staff, volunteers, and donors are asking every day what is worth my time, money, and energy? As a nation, we saw this deep adjustment happen in the aftermath of 9/11. When faced with the uncertainty of life, it seemed we wanted every moment we had to matter. As a result, we changed jobs, we moved, and we adjusted where and how and how much we donated and volunteered our time and treasure, and we adapted to a new way of life. We were a nation forever changed. As we honor the still unimaginable loss and awe-inspiring heroism of that day 20 years ago, I am struck by how in very, very different ways we are grappling again with the reckoning that comes from the uncertainty of our lives.
For example, this past week NPR reported that 40% of Americans will change jobs this year. I don’t know how that will translate into our sector or in your community, but I can see this shifting in the requests we are getting at Foraker and in so many more quiet conversations about people’s need to reprioritize what is core for them. We also know that as a result of safety protocols and personal fears, the seismic shifts in volunteerism are still unmeasured but deeply felt. Report after report tells us that charitable giving is also shifting as many foundations find or refocus their equity lenses and corporations downsize their philanthropy to adjust to a COVID economy. At the same time, individuals seek more meaningful ways to be transformational rather than transactional with their money. Layered over all this is the promise of federal relief dollars that could be game-changers when it comes to broadband access, safe drinking water, food security, childcare access, and so much more.
The challenge with all this shifting and moving is that it is hard to find the spot where we center ourselves – where we feel that the ground underneath us is steady enough to take the next steps to seize the opportunities in front of us. The irony of this moment – the moment of asking is it enough – is that this is the time when we have to be at our very best, to have all the people we need on our teams, to work with all the people on other teams across nonprofits, tribes, local governments, and business to make the highest and best use of these dollars at the very same time our teams are shifting, our funding changing, and our trust waning.
It can just feel like so much all at once. And so, we breathe and we ask ourselves, what is enough?
While I cannot begin to know how you will answer this question for yourself, I can share how I see myself and others navigating this space. I hope these ideas will spark an idea for you or just bring you comfort in solidarity. None of these ways of being are new, but in the context of the question, they might just quiet the spin cycle of your thoughts.
Finding the balance of enough in leading our work
While somewhat obvious, let’s look a little deeper at the instructions. “Do it” can be used for the quick wins that offer us an energy pick-up to fuel the harder items on the list. “Dump it” is an opportunity to say this thing I thought was important actually causes more work or chaos for others and it is right to let it go. “Delegate it” sounds great but remember to have grace with your team. Delegate isn’t an “I don’t want to do it” moment, it is a moment to acknowledge that others on the team (staff, board, volunteers) might be a more appropriate lead on the item or might actually love to do the thing you don’t want to do or don’t have time to do. Delegating is about acknowledging the strength of others and being accountable to others in your requests for support. “Delete it” is different from dumping it with the same result. The act of deleting an item from the list is to acknowledge that either it has been there forever and there is not enough energy from the team (including you) to move it forward or that because of all the other work it now no longer has the importance that it had when it got on the list in the first place. Let it go and feel the relief.
Did these ideas spark for you? While I focused on your work, I also want to keep acknowledging that many of these ideas could also translate into your personal journey. This idea of enough is not just about work – it is about our whole selves. Sure, there are other lists of ways of being that could provide personal grounding right now. Those might include taking an extended break – not just a few days but a few weeks or months, or even taking the leap and applying for a Rasmuson Sabbatical (the deadline is fast approaching). Or it might look like making an extra donation or giving just a little bit more to a nonprofit that is working on issues that matter to you in the hopes that it will balance the anger, frustration, and anxiety of what is happening in the world. Or maybe it looks like making space every day to breathe in the coolness of the coming fall air, or to walk or run or hike, or sit in the rain or sun for a little bit longer. For each of us, the answer is likely not just one thing but the thing that works in the moment. It is likely not just something we can do once or twice, but an opportunity to say and feel that whatever we choose in our work and our personal life is just enough.
Earlier this summer we asked you to help us better understand the landscape we are operating in, especially in light of COVID. Surveys are challenging on a good day, but in a time of so many unknowns and the desire to truly know, I am sure the number of surveys in your inbox is more than you want to tackle. Fair enough. We are grateful to each of you who did take the time. We had a sufficient enough response that I think you all might find yourself in these results.
Before we dive into the findings, I want to share a few thoughts that are not as obvious in the survey results but provide the emotional underpinnings of the results. Perhaps I can best sum up this emotional state by sharing my reflection on a recent conversation with a nonprofit executive. I asked her how she was doing overall. After a moment of contemplation, to signal she was going to give me a real answer, she said, “stable and fragile.” Does that resonate with you? Her answer sure resonated with me in the way that provokes a knowing nod and pulls me closer into the conversation with my heart at the same time.
I have been reflecting on this conversation because I am seeing this dichotomy not just in organizational leaders but in whole organizational structures. There is just so much incredible effort to find and maintain stability as leaders and as organizations. And it is coming at a high price – our own ability to be okay. This push and pull generates the kind of exhaustion that becomes too hard to accurately name, so instead we search for signs of what we are feeling.
In 2020, we were calling these moments “life quakes.” They rocked us individually in our homes and work and communities. They felt like disorder, panic, and sorrow. And at the same time we felt resilience and hopefulness. Today these life quakes are even stronger. We must layer on decision fatigue when every encounter with another person requires personal and professional decisions about safety and security. We also layer on our oath as a sector to serve the greater good in the midst of so much uncertainty. And, finally, we layer on the daily actions of pivoting and reframing and uplifting and adjusting that just gets us through another day in a long line of days.
What I want you all to know is that you are not alone. This experience of feeling strong and steady at the same time you feel overwhelmed and fragile is normal and hard and deserves to be acknowledged. You are holding up the safety net and speaking truth to power and doing the work that often no one else wants to do or knows how to do. If it sounds like a lot – it is. If it sounds like you, we see you and we want to hear from you so you know you are not alone. And – and this is a big AND – this is the life we lead from – this place of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. So, as hard as it is, this is also our opportunity, our next step, our onward moment. This is our time to hold opposites together and create something new – to take all the hard energy and turn it into something amazing. I know this is true because I am watching so many of you do it – in big ways and in daily life. YOU ARE DOING IT, and we have your back.
We are committed to supporting you and celebrating you, and we will raise our collective voice for you. You have told us that access to federal relief in all its forms is essential for your recovery. You have said, too, that more unrestricted government and private funding will help you hire and retain staff you need – staff that is more than nice but is essential to keeping your doors open and providing respite for your team. You also said you need help planning and thinking about the scope and scale of the work that lies ahead and how you will bridge the gap between federal funding and what a new normal of funding will look like in the year ahead. The work continues and we are walking with you.
As for the details of the survey finding, I hope you will take time to review the report. Let us know if you see yourself, or not. Let us know what else you need. Let us keep seeing and hearing each other as we continue onward.
Are you an executive director ready to empower your team to take on leadership roles? Lead Up! is designed for “mid-level” nonprofit professionals interested in growing their leadership and management skills. Our goal is to prepare the next group of diverse nonprofit executives with the tools to stretch and grow, and in the process – create a stronger constellation of staff members at your organization. Is there someone on your team that may be a good fit? This two-month intensive begins in October. The deadline to apply is September 17.
We have two positions open. We are searching for a Finance Director – this person will have the opportunity to build upon a strong team and established infrastructure to maximize impact and value for Foraker and our Financial Shared Services partners. We are also searching for a Staff Accountant to compile and maintain general ledger and accounting records for various nonprofit organizations. Join our fun and hard-working team! Learn more about the positions here.