Photo by Fabien Bazanegue via Unsplash

By Sandy Wiegand, Copyeditor and Writer at Joining Vision and Action

Nine nonprofit executive directors gathered (remotely) for the first day of JVA’s three-part Executive Directors in a Changing World networking and conversation series last week. Sandra Harris Howard facilitated.

The meeting’s official focus was “staff” in the context of the coronavirus pandemic and the struggle for racial justice. However, since this was the group’s first get-together, it began with introductions and a chance to share the issues most pressing to those in attendance. Later, the group moved on to discussion of “what’s working” for their organizations amid the challenges.

Participants said they found the conversation validating. Today we share some highlights in hopes that you too may feel supported by their shared concerns, solutions and silver linings. (Spoiler alert for staff: Your health and happiness is top of mind for them.)


Financial uncertainty

  • “What keeps me up at night is 2021 and the financial cliff most organizations are looking at.”
  • “We are going through planning—how do you plan when you don’t know what to plan for, knowing there is a lot we don’t know?”

Desire to balance staff needs with other responsibilities

  • “I really had to lean into my empathy for staff more. I really have varying levels of resilience in my staff and board. I had to shift my leadership style. … I went from being the general in crisis mode, solving all of the problems, to stepping back and really digging into my patience and empathy despite solving problems—and getting my needs met. I am working to be the empathetic leader I need to be.”
  • “I go in (to the office) half the time, but it’s because I believe my staff need that engagement. I love not driving. It’s legitimate work I am doing (at home), but what’s best for our mission, our team?”

    “EDs are stressed. I have a notebook next to my bed. I wake up and have to write things down just so I can go back to sleep.”

Keeping staff happy and accountable

  • “Many people like (working from home), so how do we manage that if some staff are only working half their hours—but in a way that feels equitable and fair but everyone is getting their work done?”
  • “(I’d like) guidance on preparing staff for constant change.”

Concerns/challenges regarding how to best serve the community

  • Black man in a COVID-19 mask walking on the street past a big Black Lives Matter banner.“How to maintain and increase our (clientele). Determining and providing what they want and need beyond the changes already made.”
  • “For us, our niche is large-group volunteer events. We figured out how to (adjust) that this year, but we’re trying to figure out how that looks in the future.”

Desire to make organizations more equitable

  • “We are looking at ways to make the team and leadership more resilient, less hierarchical, and elevate women of color.”
  • “I am also interested in the racial equity There was a strong feeling of we don’t want to just have a lot of words but no action behind it. We haven’t figured it out yet.”

Challenges maintaining relationships with clients and funders remotely

  • “How do I keep connected with these (clients) as well as our constituents and feel comfortable asking for funding?”

What’s working/Surprise positives

Increased board engagement

  • “I have managed to get the board more engaged than ever. And we recruited three new people!”

An increase in volunteers (for online work)

  • “We had a big influx of volunteers—people who were probably home because of COVID and looking for things to do. That was great.”

Staff flexibility and growth

  • I am grateful for how staff has been able to adapt.”
  • “A leader has emerged in this time, and that has been great to see.

Increased productivity

  • “It’s been nice not to have the commute and to be able to focus.”
  • “My productivity has been so much better not being in the office because I’m not fielding as much stuff from other people. I am also gaining hours from not being in the car commuting. I have questions in my mind about what can happen down the line, what it will look like.”

Better connection with volunteers

  • “There has been a good change in my perspective on quantity vs. quality. We usually don’t put caps on the number of volunteers, but now we have to do groups of 10. I have realized I have had better conversations with those who come out. There is more depth and engagement on what they do. It’s an interesting shift. We are trained to look at numbers; there may be less volunteers or fewer projects, but the quality of interactions has probably been better.”

Landlord support

  • “We pushed our landlords and have gotten them to invest money for lights (that kill viruses), to install windows; we changed our whole ventilation

Funder flexibility

  • Funders have been amazing. They communicate to me unequivocally: Do what you need to do; don’t worry about what you originally said you would do. That has been huge for me: how the funding community has been very supportive.”

More conference invitations

  • “We have been asked to give more talks at more conferences because they are also online, so in a sense we are saving a lot of money by not having to travel. And we’re able to get more work done. So we’re more efficient. We have really embraced being online.”

Taking some time off!

  • “My goal is to … get a vacation on the calendar. I am feeling not like myself and I am saying things I don’t normally say … so I’m going to hold myself accountable and do what I tell others to do.”
  • “I capped my PTO, so … I am trying to take a half-day a week, to go hiking, for example.”

Look for additional blogs in the coming weeks as JVA hosts our Executive Directors in a Changing World sessions focusing on funding and boards. We have intentionally kept this group small to encourage deeper, more candid conversations and real connections. We hope to provide similar opportunities for additional participants in the future. Keep your eye out!