Truth is often stranger than fiction. There is never a shortage of stories from nonprofit chief executives that we hear in our role as consultants and coaches.
Never in my 25-year career in the nonprofit sector, though, have I witnessed what we are living through today.
Here’s what the chief executive of a human services organization recounted to me in a recent conversation — all in a day’s work.
- A program participant has a fever, creating a need to rollout the newly developed protocols including supporting the family in getting to a testing site.
- A staff member is notified that someone she was in contact with tested positive for COVID-19, which means the staff member must now quarantine for 14 days; however, there is no one else to provide the work coverage needed.
- It’s staff appreciation day so the chief executive orders pizzas and drives to each location to wave at staff through the windows to let them know how truly essential they are to the mission and the larger community.
- A major funder calls to say they need marketing materials ASAP for a presentation they are building.
- Another major funder denies a request to modify a grant award, adding to the ongoing financial hardship.
- A third funder emails to say that emergency dollars have become available, and that she has to get her request in by noon the following day; it’s already 3:00 pm the day before.
- A long-standing program partner asked to talk about rethinking their collaboration given the economy.
- At 8:00 pm, we are on the phone to make decisions on how to shift their capital campaign into smaller phases to be responsive to the current climate.
All of this on top of watching coronavirus press briefings and communicating with her peers in the field and local government to navigate the ever-changing guidance from health officials. She was required to cease operations in March then reopen under pandemic guidelines in May, and now has to reforecast what the budget looks like for the remainder of the year despite the uncertainty and volatility.
Not to mention the emails, phone calls, questions, and never ending barrage of well-intentioned requests for stories about how COVID is impacting her organization and the families served.
It’s exhausting, and I’m only on the other end of the phone. I’m not on the front lines directly but am riding the roller coaster with her and our other clients daily as a consultant, therapist, friend, coach, and cheerleader.
As a community, we have widely recognized the healthcare workers who are putting their lives on the line to care for those who fall ill. We talk about the unsung essential employees, like grocery store clerks, who can’t work from home. We recognize the daunting task faced by teachers who are about to go back into classrooms while the virus persists.
But, how often as a community do we talk about the leaders of our human service agencies?
They are responsible for the social safety net that undergirds American society. They are faced with increased demand and risk with decreased resources and support. They are tireless, creative, and fierce — and they are worried.
Of course, nonprofit chief executives have had to do more with less for decades. But this time it’s different. Funders must acknowledge the burden placed on their shoulders.
Let’s recognize their leadership. Let’s get the resources and solutions they so desperately need in the most efficient way possible. And let’s do it today.
Article by: Kerri Laubenthal Mollard, Founder & CEO