I had a call today with a colleague in Washington, DC whose organization does both inside-the-beltline high impact defense and state/local slow-change work.
From my distance, it’s easy to say that both efforts are critical in these frightening, uncertain times. From her vantage point, however, the two lines of work don’t sit so comfortably together. The inside-the-beltline advocate feels frenetic, besieged and overwhelmed. The state/local folk plod along but wonder if they’re relevant.
Though the contrast may be clearer with this one organization, all non-profit change leaders are wrestling with this truly painful question.
What should we be doing now and in the next year in this Trump reality (unreality) with its daily unfolding of bad news and potentially lethal shots?
Reading this article today in the Nonprofit Quarterly made me wonder if the “risk management” lens could be useful.
Here’s my current thinking.
As non-profit leaders and organizations, we need to both find our footing on solid ground and take flight.
Find our footing on solid ground. In times of crisis, we are required to take a hard look at what our organizations are doing with their resources. We must take the time and the risk (of upsetting those valued staff who don’t like change) to look at every strategy and program through these two lens:
- Our mission and vision for the future? These must be clear, relevant and tangible enough to answer the question – what critical problem are we truly solving?
- Our sustainability. Is each activity critical to our mission and vision? Does each activity gain or lose revenue for the organization and how does it impact the mission? How healthy are our relationships with funders, donors and investors?
As leaders, these are the questions and considerations we must get better at honestly facing and actively grappling with. Not much else really matters.
Take flight. Now that we’ve taken a very hard look at what we do with the mission-sustainability lens – now it’s time to re-act. Get in the fray of defending your values and territory – to feel better, learn, build community, find new partners and maybe go after a small victory outside your comfort zone. Pick your battle and venue carefully and grow the capacity of your board and staff to work and fight when circumstances are uncertain. Advocacy is no longer a choice, but a survival skill. Whether it’s contacting elected officials, organizing or joining a protest, engaging your trade organization or organizing a social media campaign.
Surviving these times requires all of us, I think, to be incredibly clear about what pieces of our work signify, to take some actions that give us agency, and have the hard conversations with our funders about their flexibility, clarity and risk tolerance. It requires preparing the staff and board for the demands of immediate advocacy while simultaneously planning for long term sustainability and relevance.
Hang in there!
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