“Risk management means radical awareness of what’s going on and then taking the appropriate next steps,” said Ted Bilich, founder of Risk Alternatives. But “risk also means opportunities.”
Ted Bilich was speaking yesterday on the first webinar in a series that we will be running on how nonprofits, philanthropy, and civil society should be responding to COVID-19. Crystal Hayling of the Libra Foundation observed that in the long run, the choice to use the words “social distancing” was a difficult one, taken as a prescription for the nation. Her point was that, as we observe the legitimate need for physical distance from one another during this pandemic, we must also seek out social solidarity to make the most of this moment.
In this spirit, we want to ask you to consider becoming an active part of our community as we try to make consequential sense of this crisis/opportunity. Please help us make sense of what is happening in your community or movement. Share your lessons, analyses and strategic imperatives.
Many of us do not want to return to the pre-virus “normal.” We want to advance efforts to address some of the fault lines in our culture that the virus has further exposed and develop aspirations worthy of our whole planet. That is what being a nonprofit ought to be about—at once we place ourselves in stewardship of shared resources for community benefit and are a venue that seeks to include and enfranchise those our democracy has marginalized. Real “social distancing,” which we might argue is where we have been as a country for some time, is antithetical to that.
This month has been one for the history books, certainly. Seemingly overnight, the novel coronavirus went from ominous threat to all-too-real everyday presence. And the shutdown of our economy continues apace, with more and more states operating under “stay at home” rules, upending everyday lives and resulting in economic dislocation for tens of millions of Americans. We have been rightly asked to stay at a distance from one another physically, but as Rashad Robinson of Color of Change observed during the same webinar, that should be seen as giving us time to find different ways of working across boundaries.
Robinson says we are already on the path toward radically shifting the ways we communicate, think, and organize. Over this extended period of time when we are forced into a different way of being, we should expect to build new ways and systems to connect and strategize, and it will be important to center the need for people to write their own stories of liberation and what the future should look like.
The challenges posed to our nation, our global community, and our own nonprofit sector are immeasurable. But it is in times like these—unbearably pressed, authentically disruptive—when qualitative change may be possible. And while it may sound odd to say this at a time of hunkering down, our lens must be as wide and expansive as our vision of the society that we seek to create.
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So, tell us your stories.
We cannot create a positive storyline of this period by ourselves. Please share with us stories from your nonprofits, your movements, and your community to help us surface the solidarity efforts we are finding in all this talk of social distance.
One way to do so is through the comment section of this article. But we also invite you to share full-length stories that allow the creativity of your community to shine.
What kind of stories might you want to tell? We suspect that there are as many stories out there as there are readers, but here are a few ideas.
- Stories of mutual aid, protection and support: Already, we have seen a number of stories that lift up practices from the bottom-up emerge. This includes “virtual tip jars” that support laid-off bartenders and restaurant workers to groups that deliver groceries to elders to community library boxes that have been converted into community pantries. We believe spreading information of “what works” in our communities is one of the vital roles that a network and platform like NPQ can play.
- Organizational responses: For nonprofit organizations, there is no question that the crisis has upended just about every revenue expectation we might have ever had. Some nonprofits have had to go on hiatus during the shutdown. Others have set up emergency funds. Everything from how we manage volunteers, to how we do fundraising, to communications, to maintaining staff, to managing cash is affected. Please share your stories of how your movement or organization is negotiating through the many challenges that our present pandemic poses.
- Strategy for the present: How are you thinking about this moment? We know that as conditions change rapidly, so too do ideas of what is possible, both in terms of public policy and our sector and movements as a whole. For instance, a month ago, universal paid sick leave and universal basic income were often considered fringe policy ideas; now, they have moved to the political mainstream. How are you and those around you thinking about the current moment? In this moment of crisis, what do common sector values such as equity and justice require of both us as individuals and our movements and organizations?
- Vision for the future: While we do not know how long the pandemic or the shutdown will last, we are confident that neither will last forever, which means that visioning for the future should begin now. We know from past experience that sometimes crises can open liberatory possibilities—and, alas, we also know from past experience that sometimes crises can shut such possibilities down. What can we do to emerge as a society, post-pandemic, that is in a better place than where we were before? Are there ways to build on some of the lessons of solidarity that the pandemic crisis is forcing us to recall?
Building Community in the Time of the Novel Coronavirus
With person-to-person contact dramatically curtailed, we believe that online communities like our own will be of critical importance in fostering and building a sense of greater community. We also know that while crises sometimes bring out people’s worst, they can also very often bring out our best. We want to do what we can to accentuate the latter, while asking the hard questions necessary to avoid the former.
So, whether you live and work in a small rural town, or a large urban center, or in a suburban community, we look forward to learning from you how the novel coronavirus is affecting your community, your nonprofit, and the movements that you consider your own. We hope you will share with us some of the creative responses that you and others in your hometown are employing to see us through this moment—responses that we hope might point all of us toward a more positive, caring, and community-supporting future. Write to us at [email protected].