Last week Shari Graydon — editor at Informed Opinions, a Canadian nonprofit working to elevate women’s voices in the media — wrote a beautiful article about the opportunity that the pandemic is offering us. She argues that this crisis is an opportunity to decide what we want to take forward with us, and what we want to leave behind. As she puts it:
The biggest silver lining to these dark and disrupted days is the opening they offer to start deliberately shaping the tomorrow that will eventually arrive. If we don’t begin actively promoting alternative futures now, it will be too easy to slip back into old realities…So I’m writing to…encourage all of those with unique insight into any aspect of the coronavirus crisis and the ways we are — or should be — dealing with it, to share those insights if they can. To leverage the privileges of education and experience, time and space, to help us not only deal with our terrifying current reality, but envision, seed and plan a more desirable future. One that collapses income inequality, strengthens our social safety net, and prioritizes the health, safety and sustainability of this remarkably resilient but vulnerable planet we have too long taken for granted.”
Graydon was specifically speaking to her audience (academics, advocates, executives, and entrepreneurs), but I think the same is true for nonprofit and philanthropic leaders. Now is the time to “envision, seed and plan a more desirable future” for social change work. Because, as I’ve written before, I believe it is nonprofit leaders who will lead the charge to create new and better systems once this crisis has passed.
So, now is the time to decide what we want the future of social change work to look like — what we want to take with us into the future, and what we will leave behind.
Here are some things I think we should leave behind:
Powerless Nonprofit Leaders
For too long we have told nonprofit leaders that they are not worthy of the money, time, effort, people, resources, and political power that their social change goals truly require. And I’m sorry to report that you, dear nonprofit leaders, have internalized those messages. The end result is that you have separated yourself from your own tremendous power. So seize this unique opportunity to recognize how much you have to offer, how powerful you truly are. Let’s create the future of social change from that potent place.
The Belief that Money is Scarce
I know this is heresy right now, but I truly believe that there is plenty of money out there to address the social challenges we face. However, social change work has forever been stuck in a debilitating scarcity mindset. And the scarcity mindset breeds fear — our fiercest enemy. In order to overcome that scarcity mindset, you must first start by believing that abundance is always available. From that belief comes the confidence, the will, the energy and the inspiration to draw it toward you. So, once and for all, let’s kiss social change scarcity goodbye.
Martyred Social Change
So often as nonprofit leaders you are expected (and expect yourself) to sacrifice your own needs for the sake of your social change mission, your clients, your board, your funders. Those days must end. Each one of us is only able to give what we ourselves have in abundance. So we must move to a place where you –our fearless social change leaders — ask for and receive everything you need. A place where you have more than enough time, money, resources, support, volunteers. We must, once and for all, toss aside the way of the social change martyr.
Inequality in All Forms
There is already a growing drumbeat to recognize the rampant racial inequality that this crisis has uncovered. In addition, let’s recognize and fix the rampant inequality that happens inside and outside of nonprofit organizations. These include the power imbalances between funders and their grantees, boards and their staffs, and (sometimes) nonprofits and those they serve. I believe we are moving to a radically new place where we finally and fully recognize that all humans are equal and should be treated as such. So let’s leave behind power imbalances and inequities in the world of social change work too.
I believe that this pandemic is heralding a level of change that human beings have never before seen. That is terrifying — but it also offers huge opportunity. An opportunity for each of us to analyze what is working and what is not. And in that analysis we can each decide what we take forward and what we toss in the trash.
Photo Credit: Steve Johnson