Hello From the Other Side-Going Forward When There’s No Going Back How Frontline Nonprofits Reflect and Rebuild
Someday, things will get back to normal.
This was the mantra that buoyed many worthy organizations throughout the pandemic.
With staff and leadership bone tired, emotionally spent, and yearning for normalcy, frontline nonprofits of all sizes and stripes are coming to grips with a reality check: there is no going back to an old normal–to fulfilling missions at their comfortable churn; there is only going forward. And forward means nothing short of restructuring operations and leadership supports–a daunting task even when undertaken during the best of times. This moment offers nonprofit management teams no other choice but to embrace the opportunity to forge ahead by doing 3 things: taking stock, regrouping, and resetting to accommodate the changes forced upon them by Covid19.
Finding Solutions in Guided Self-Evaluation
What Do We Do Now?
While organizations on the frontline may have faced steeper challenges than the sector as a whole, their takeaways are universal, especially right now. The pandemic took a toll on nonprofits, a human resource toll and a psychic toll on organizational culture. Nonprofit leaders found ways to triumph through adversity. Seeing that there is no going back to pre-pandemic reality, that there is to be no reciprocal “pivot” as they had expected, they are seeking ways to stabilize and strengthen their organizations. Nonprofits are primed to grow.
In my work with these organizations, I help facilitate the process of evaluation and growth planning. I see firsthand that growing pains are real. Everyone is tired. It can feel like a slow crawl. And yet, growth is the only way forward.
First, we must acknowledge who we were pre-pandemic. We may have to admit that we weren’t prepared. This can be humbling. Perhaps we weren’t running as well as we should have been or operating as efficiently as possible. Crisis blew the cover off the ball. We need to complete that honest self-reflection and then move on.
Next, we must assess who we are as an organization today. What’s working? What’s not? What’s left of us? The pandemic spurred extraordinary effort and accomplishment as nonprofits rose to the occasion, at times by the skin of their teeth. Assessment creates room for both healthy self-congratulation for a job well done and an understanding of how and why change is needed. Growth can be achieved, but it shouldn’t be painful. The future must avoid collateral damage.
Finally, a game plan, a commencement: who will we become? What came about unexpectedly, perhaps desperately, should become purposeful, and sustainable. The committed individuals who populate our nonprofit sector need and deserve that mode of operation.
Healthy Progress with Help
Reflecting on what organizations went through during Covid is a painful but necessary step. Recognizing that formal self-evaluation is not part of one’s everyday program delivery, this is where the guidance of a professional outside the organization, someone who hasn’t been in the trenches, is especially effective. Partnership through this process is a vivid example of how organizations can benefit from outside guidance.
When teams have been through trial by fire, there can be residual blame and unresolved tensions. Although understandable, it is not productive and needs to be reframed. The right internal facilitator can absorb some of that pain by listening, understanding, and regrouping. Some organizations may need outside help by way of a qualified consultant who recognizes areas of growth as steppingstones to a stronger organization.
Now that we are recalibrating, we are all changed. This is a time of rebuilding, and not necessarily recreating what we had before. Let’s pick up the puzzle pieces and figure out how they fit now. With thoughtful, deliberate, guided self-reflection, our nonprofits will be positioned to heal, hope, and head forward with renewed vigor and strength of purpose.