A colleague recently commented that he would like to be paid $1.00 for every time he has heard or read the word “unprecedented” the past six months. Indeed, “unprecedented” seems to be the word of the year in the midst of our new pandemic-racial reckoning-political turbulence-social media reality.
Then again, the unexpected is what makes our nonprofit and philanthropic sector so invigorating. It may not feel this way, but if ever there were a set of institutions set up to be nimble, it’s us. The vast majority of America’s nonprofit organizations are small, with under $2 Million in annual expenses. A majority of those have an annual budget that’s less than $1 Million. Ours has historically been a nimble sector. We jump in to solve problems that are not profitable enough to be worthwhile for business ventures nor universal enough to command the attention of government.
With a little political savvy and a lot of courage, small organizations can change strategy, change business model — even change objectives — quickly. In our best incarnations, nonprofit organizations are responsive and nimble. We can have tremendous positive impact when more entrenched institutions are hamstrung into limited efficiency.
Let’s not lose that entrepreneurial spirit when we need it most. Times are tough. Work-from-home environments are tough. Layoffs are real. I know it’s hard. But even with all the economic uncertainty, our staff teams and boards are creative, dedicated, generous people.
Our job as leaders in the sector is to provide the right amount of structure to give all that creative energy a constructive place to go. Things are hard right now. For many of our organizations, revenue is dropping even as demand for services is increasing. Please don’t just “wait it out.” Today is the day your organization needs you to be as open to new ways of doing things as you are committed to its mission. This is a good time to treat co-workers with extra patience. It’s a good time to think nimbly. It’s a good time to be a leader.