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  • Anjali Gupta

Support...Others, Community, and Your Well-Being. Part 2 of 4.

The pandemic has required leaders across industries to think creatively, lead confidently, manage with empathy, pivot continuously, and prepare strategically. There is no playbook for the situation we are in. We have not had something like this in our lifetime. How are nonprofits adapting in this new environment and what are the opportunities for their organizations?

I got to discuss these questions with Jeff Franco, who delved into the world of nonprofits after business school. He engrossed himself in the operations side as City Year Executive Director, teaches a course on nonprofits at American University, and currently leads a center in DC that is part of Compass which is committed to nonprofits. As an individual, Jeff cares deeply about the world and its inequities, sleeping on the streets annually to raise funds for the homeless and passionately discussing the topic that he has committed countless hours towards during his life.

Q & A:

Jeff Franco, Director of The Sorkin Center For Nonprofit Governance, Compass and CEO, Camino Consulting

What are the challenges for nonprofits during this pandemic?

Nonprofits rely on the generosity and philanthropy of others. The nonprofit revenue flow is strained right now. For example, galas this spring were canceled and usually bring in crucial funds. This relationship between nonprofits and donors has often been a unidirectional one. Though nonprofits are having financial struggles, donors are currently having their own struggles also so you don't want to come across as being tone deaf. Adapting how you normally do things is always a challenge. Right now you want to give donors space, however also let them know you are still there. The relationship right now should be bi-directional. Nonprofits need to steward and cultivate relationships more, check in with donors on how they are doing as part of their nonprofit family. You need permission to make an ask. It is not time to be looking for new gifts but keeping your nonprofit stable with current champions. As nonprofit leaders feel financial strain, this may be counterintuitive but it is important they be empathic to the situations of donors right now. Also, the management of staff and evaluation of performance is a challenge. Employees are having their own struggles in this virtual environment from work life balance to child care to anxiety over reopening and returning to work. Moving organizations forward yet being empathic to the needs of employees has been tricky during this pandemic.

What are the opportunities for nonprofits during this pandemic?

This virtual environment has had nonprofits experimenting and adapting in many ways. As we move forward, nonprofits have an opportunity to think about which components they want to keep long term, which part of the last few months were compelling. Re-visting what happened here with the organization and figuring out which parts of this virtual model gets written into the DNA of the nonprofit is key. There is a wider breadth of opportunity here when we think about the adaptations as more than a stop gap. Maybe these contribute to an organization re-inventing itself? There is a chance to experiment which could lead to a new revenue model. Lean into this new space and you might find new value in new ways and new revenue streams.

The racial protests during this pandemic are also opportunities for nonprofits to address diversity, equity, and inclusion. DEI has been an uncomfortable space, and many nonprofits have not done their own self-examination on this. How do you deal with unconscious bias and systemic oppression at your institution? It is time to get into the uncomfortable place as an organization and talk about it. Do your staff and board represent diversity? Unconscious bias needs to be looked at not only at an organizational level but also at an individual one. There are many individuals who are committed to this issue in a social justice space, but what are each of us doing in the course of our day to propel forward unconscious bias? Who is at the decision making table to address the issues of DEI? It is up to the leadership of each organization to decide that diversity makes the conversation richer. The research is well-established. DC is one of the most diverse communities, and if you want to find diversity, there is plenty of talent to tap into.

What is The Sorkin Center doing to support nonprofits during this pandemic?

We are listening to the struggle of nonprofits. Based on their needs, we have set up zoom calls accessing our networks to find leaders to share best practices. We are building community across nonprofits across multiple cities: DC, Chicago, Philadelphia. Creating a space to convene leaders to discuss vexing issues has been helpful to provide support to nonprofits during this pandemic. Board members and Executive Directors are connecting in ways that have been enhanced by this virtual environment. They are working side by side with all hands on deck in ways that are new yet appropriate without boards going too deep into operations. An example of our own experimentation is a pilot we are starting with a group of ED's in the children and youth space. They are in the same space organically; we think bringing them together in a shared cohort for 6 months will prove to be valuable for all involved.

Thank you to Jeff for the inspiration!

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