There is a growing drumbeat in the media about the looming demise of the nonprofit sector. It reminds me of Mark Twain’s famous line, “The report of my death was an exaggeration.”
CNN, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal, to name a few, have all heralded the impending doom of the nonprofit sector in the wake of the coronavirus. From cancelled fundraising events, to economic collapse, to increased demand for services, there are certainly a myriad of challenges heading toward the nonprofit sector.
But I refuse to believe that the nonprofit sector will be leveled by this crisis.
In fact, what if the opposite happened? What if our predilection for counting out the nonprofit sector is wrong? What if rather than being destroyed, the nonprofit sector is actually reborn by this crisis? What if it is in fact the leaders of the nonprofit sector who step up amidst this chaos and lead us to a better place?
Call me a Pollyanna if you will, but I truly believe that this virus, while terrifying and horrible and chaotic, is also an enormous opportunity for our society and our world.
If you dig beneath the fear and anxiety of the big headlines, you start to hear a quiet optimism emerging (like here and here and here). A more hopeful view that while this crisis is destructive and challenging on every level, it may also offer an opportunity to uncover and finally fix the many broken aspects of our society. It is possible that we are in the midst of a great resetting. A resetting that will first uncover all that is wrong about our current systems and structures and then force us to create better ones.
And who better to lead the effort to create those improved systems than the very social change leaders who have been working for decades to create a healthier, more connected, more equitable and just world?
I believe that it is you, dear social change leaders, who will lead us out of this darkness and into something much better.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that this situation is easy. We are, each one of us, being asked to face our greatest fears. And I know how challenging it is as a nonprofit leader trying to figure out how you will continue to serve your clients, pay your staff, keep your sanity.
But I’ll tell you what will definitely make you lose your sanity — waiting for a manufactured death knell for the sector.
So stop listening to the cacophony of voices telling you that you are weak, you are struggling, you are running out of money, you are withering on the vine, you only have months to survive. Reach instead for that stalwart — hope.
This crisis affords all of us an opportunity to move through — and eventually beyond — fear. It offers us all — as individuals, as a society, and as a world — an opportunity to decide what we want to take forward with us and what we want to leave behind.
And I vote that we leave behind the tired, worn-out story about how weak, hobbled, fearful and incapacitated the nonprofit sector is. Let’s instead write a new story.
I believe that this crisis will be the impetus for our social change leaders to fully step into their power. I believe that you, our social change leaders, will lead us to create new and better systems, institutions, and structures that will be based on connected, equitable and healthy people and planet.
So, nonprofit leaders, stop counting yourselves out. And stop letting others count you out. I have no doubt that a new day awaits us after this crisis has passed. And that new day will be led by you, our powerful social change leaders.
Photo by Michael Uebler