Nonprofits in a pandemic: The strongest year yet

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This is my 21st year in education and nonprofit management, and crisis is no stranger to any professional in this field. In a pre-pandemic world, our daily efforts faced the realities of every societal weight our community carries. Even so, COVID-19 has amplified and exacerbated these issues while simultaneously requiring operational and program pivots to ensure safety and sustainability. Tentacles of emotional and economic havoc have reached into every home and agency, but the quilt of passionate community helpers is a source of immense hope for the Treasure Coast.

The most poignant moment of this crisis hit for me in June. My husband works in health care and was at home recovering from COVID-19. I could hear his heavy coughing in the next room while on a Zoom meeting with the entire Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) team. Our COO, Debbie Hawley, and I were sharing that along with our Board of Directors we had made a bold and proactive financial decision. BBBS elected to proactively cut overhead by eliminating our large headquarters in exchange for a collaborative workspace and increased usage of our two other offices. We acknowledged this was a different way of working but assured our team it was in the best interests of serving our children. On a screen of familiar faces, I could see their concern about such an enormous change and an unfamiliar feeling crept into my heart ... fear. Upon finishing the meeting, I shut my laptop, heard my husband cough again and cried. For a moment, the frustration of how just a few short months earlier Debbie and I had been planning for our strongest year yet, and the “what-ifs” of a spouse with COVID-19 became overwhelming.

The vast ways organizations are adapting is rewiring the entire nonprofit ecosystem in real time. From altering instantaneously irrelevant procedural practices to engaging in new emergency response efforts, it has all evolved quickly. We are in the midst of what will be reflected on as the year that changed everything. True to form, the nonprofit sector and our supporters have responded with fierce love and collaborative determination.

There will come a moment when the changes we have made, the tools we have gained and the resilience we have built will be a platform for celebration. The creativity and collaboration of this moment will better equip the nonprofit sector for an even more efficient network of services in the future. Programs and fundraising efforts will be more flexible and ready to meet people where they are. Our young leaders will be even more capable and adaptable. Our local community will feel more secure. My own mentor, Susan, has reminded me for the entirety of my career, “Stacey, leadership means progress, not perfection.” This experience has been collective progress boot-camp, so essentially it IS the strongest year yet.

It is an honor to serve our community alongside a network of incredible non-profit leaders on the Treasure Coast who together have found grace between the fear and the fierce of 2020. We are always Bigger Together.

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