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Loving with One Voice: An Open Letter to Nonprofit Boards during COVID-19

Dear Nonprofit Board Members,

Alina Boyte says, “When we are heart-centered, we can be better leaders, make more positive choices, and impact our world in a more profound way because we make decisions and seek solutions in a way that is more purposeful, thoughtful, and open to the realities around us.”

If you are reading this, you are likely a heart-centered person – a compassionate human living your life in intentional alignment with your personal values. This is why you are on a board(s). Your passion compelled you to generously serve an organization whose mission you deeply believe in. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, your heart-centered leadership is needed more than ever.

There have been few resources shared for board leadership during this time. And the ones that have, like this one from Board Source, (importantly) focus on the formal governing role of a board during a crisis.

My question is, how can we approach our critical leadership wholeheartedly right now?

In the coming weeks, I’m inviting you to bring your whole heart to your board commitment. I know you are also navigating this crisis in your personal life: your own job, cancelled schools, potential financial uncertainty, worry about loved ones. In the midst of the chaos, seek to find the unique ways that you can give your wholehearted support.

Below I am sharing ways that you can make a profound impact on your organization and its employees in your own heart-centered way.

Model Vulnerability and Connection

Vulnerability is emotional courage and it births connection. There is not a single person on this planet that has this crisis figured out. Connect with one another around this reality. We are in this together (even if virtually). The more connected you are as a board, the more united, authentic, and powerful you are for your organization, its staff, and community. You will not only speak with one voice, but you will love with one also.

Believe in the Best Imaginable Outcome

You and your fellow board members are hopefully already fulfilling your duty to “plan for the worst.” But that doesn’t mean you can’t also “believe in the best.” Your role is to strategize and be prepared for challenges ahead, but when you choose to believe in the good that can emerge, others will follow. Be a board that powers your organization with hope.

Support your Executive Director Now More than Ever

I could write a whole post on this, but I’ll cut to the chase. These are grueling times for your executive leader. No amount of optimism, coffee, or flowers can alleviate the burden they are carrying for their staff and community. (But you should still send them flowers and coffee). Like you, their personal lives are upside down right now. On top of that, they are keenly in tune with the turbulence and uncertainty their employees are facing, and the dire risks posed to the communities they serve. They are likely lying awake at night flooded with anxiety about how they are going to keep it all together.

Right now, it isn’t enough to say, “We have your back, this is going to be fine.” Now is the time to show up as much as you can: encouraging emails or texts, a surprise grocery delivery, a handmade card in the mail, a gift certificate to a local shop or bookstore or an iTunes gift card, whatever you can do. Find out if there is coaching or training they need right now to navigate this. Routinely ask them what they need and show up when they tell you. Connect with your fellow board members to coordinate this care. It won’t fix everything, but I guarantee your ED will know she is not alone.

Champion Your Organization’s Resilience

If there is ever a time to loudly talk up your organization, it is now. We are all being bombarded by and tired of organizational and business COVID-19 statements flooding our inboxes. Do something different: take a few minutes and make a short video, post a love letter to your ED on Instagram, or email a heartfelt email to your friends sharing how proud you are to be serving your organization during this time of need. Share what they are doing that makes you proud. Are they making sacrifices to keep their employees paid? Are they getting creative in keeping their clients fed? Are they innovating the way they deliver services to meet the need? Did they respond responsibly and quickly to the crisis? Whatever they are doing, shine light on it.

Bring Your Best Fundraising Allyship

Most nonprofits are facing imminent or eventual financial hardship due to COVID-19. Fundraising events are being cancelled and revenue-generating services paused. If you have capacity to give, consider making the most significant unrestricted gift you can make. If not a financial gift, find out how you can be the most effective during this time. Maybe it is making calls to each person who registered for that cancelled event. Maybe it is writing thank you notes to your supporters who have come through during this time. Or maybe it is sharing a campaign with your friends far and wide. Coordinate with other board members and get creative with your fundraising allyship.

Thank you so much for sharing your gifts and your heart with your community. You inspire me. If there is any way I can help, please let me know. With Kind(red) Regards, Jessica Lawmaster

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