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.