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A life-destroying global pandemic. Anguished demands for racial and social justice. Millions of families in financial freefall. Whiplash change across the social sector and with it, unpredictable funding flows. These cascading challenges are testing the design limits of nonprofits everywhere, often exposing a constricted capacity to bounce back and help communities build toward a better tomorrow. It’s more clear than ever that nonprofits need to possess a well-honed process for continuously building and reinforcing organizational resilience. But how?
How can nonprofits summon the creativity to pioneer new pathways to social impact, when deep crisis has shaken their fundamental approaches to achieving their goals? What can nonprofits do to navigate uncertainty, so they have a better shot at seizing new opportunities to extend their reach—opportunities that the pandemic itself has revealed? And what does it look like when nonprofits are capable of continual, trauma-free renewal, even in the absence of a crisis?
Such questions were top-of-mind in the summer of 2020, as the US surpassed 3 million Covid-19 infections and cries for racial justice persisted in cities across the country, after police officers fatally shot Breonna Taylor in March and choked George Floyd to death in May. That summer, The Bridgespan Group and the Emerson Collective embarked on a year-long effort to support 48 nonprofits in the Emerson Collective’s portfolio as they fortified their organizational resilience.
While these nonprofits operate within a variety of fields that span the social sector, each organization is working to advance racial equity and justice. And like so many other nonprofits, each plays a critical role in partnering with communities as they strive to make their way through these unprecedented times. “We have always been humbled by the strength and resilience of our partners,” said Anne Marie Burgoyne, the Emerson Collective’s director of social innovation. “But as 2020 unfolded and leaders and teams were challenged on so many fronts—financial, operational and relational—we sought to create an opportunity to build skills and tools to enable organizations to grow even stronger.”
As we work and learn alongside these nonprofits, we are reminded that resilience—the capacity to not only navigate difficult challenges or traumatic events, but also improve along the way—resides within each of us. Citing research as well as such examples as the run-to-the-fire response of multitudes of Americans to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the American Psychological Association asserts that “resilience is ordinary, not extraordinary.” All people experience trauma, pain, and stress in their lives and yet, all of us have the capacity to grow our inner resilience over time.
So it goes with organizations. All organizations, especially social sector nonprofits, likely endure the kind of adversity that sometimes shakes them to their foundations; all have the potential to withstand and learn from those difficult events. So it behooves nonprofits to make the practice of building organizational resilience an everyday habit, so they not only survive the current crisis, but also emerge from it stronger and better poised to meet the needs of the communities they serve.
Read the full article about building nonprofit resilience by Meera Chary at The Bridgespan Group.