Open Sign,” Brian Hawkins. Photo Credit:

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread across the world, the crisis has brought profound changes to the way we live and work. In our latest Tiny Spark podcast, we check in with three nonprofit leaders to find out about the extraordinary moments and excruciating challenges they are facing.

“We’re facing an existential threat,” says Akilah Watkins-Butler, president and CEO of the Center for Community Progress. “People are dying. And nonprofit leaders like myself? We are trying to figure out how do we hold this together.”

“In Lakota, we have a saying: Mitákuye Oyás’iŋ,” Nick Tilsen tells us. “It means that we’re all connected.” The president and CEO of the NDN Collective, an Indigenous-led organization, hopes that our recognition of this relationship will influence how we reflect on the pandemic.

“I really do believe that COVID-19 is a response to, and a byproduct of, a really unsustainable global economy that we’ve built,” Tilsen says. “We cannot continue down the same destructive consumption path that separates the rich from the poor, that destroys the environment, because we understand now that all things are connected.”

The Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Chief of Staff, Darrel Cummings, also feels that there is no way to return to business as usual. “It’s important for all of us to recognize that there is no normal on the horizon anytime soon,” he tells us. “We have to think about our response and the work that we do as being different for a long time.”

These three leaders share their fears about how hits to their fundraising programs and government funding could affect their work. They explain how their vulnerable constituents are more at risk from COVID-19, and what this says about economic justice and inequity across the country. They also express optimism that, amidst this crisis, philanthropy is finding ways to step up.

“The silver lining is that I am seeing more human connections between funders and grantees,” Watkins-Butler says. “Now we can really, in some ways, talk really real about what the challenges are with achieving the big ideas that we all want.”

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