Even though I am nearly a quarter-century beyond my economics degree, I read the many articles in recent months on the possibility of a double-dip recession—or just a long-term shaky economy—with more than a little bit of hyperventilation.
But to avoid real panic, I have learned a few coping mechanisms, and one of the best is to stare down the thing you fear as the first step toward being able to manage it. Here are my three biggest fears–and suggestions for how all us who manage nonprofits can face down these worries:
What will happen to nonprofits? The last two years have been among the most difficult in recent memory. Organizations made difficult choices and hard sacrifices, and some came up with creative ideas—all to keep operating and serving their communities. I fear many have very little powder dry for another assault. Some will fail, and others will have to make deep cuts that will permanently shrink organizational capacity that was built up over decades of hard work, sweat equity, and a relentless focus on important charitable missions. It’s not clear to me how, if ever, what is lost will be rebuilt.
How to face this fear. Think about what makes up the fabric of a community: Does every part have to be rebuilt in exactly the same way? New ways of approaching our work are a must, collaboration is a given, and putting those we serve ahead of our institutional habits and loyalties is paramount. What emerges will be different, but in some cases, that just might be OK.
What will happen to nonprofits’ clients? When nonprofits shrink or fold, families, children, and entire communities will be left behind. While it’s politically expedient to talk about the nascent recovery, the reality for virtually every low- to moderate-income community ravaged by foreclosures, unemployment, and disinvestment is that the recovery is nowhere in sight. Another recessionary jolt could make it impossible for these neighborhoods, which have fought so hard for safe, low-cost housing along with jobs and services, to regain the ground they have lost.
How to face this fear. Let’s all take on a little more risk—potentially for a lot more return. Individual donors, banks, foundations, and organizations like mine that lend money to nonprofits all have a role to play in making more capital available and sharing the risk associated with doing so.
What will happen when the scarcity mentality takes a more-lasting hold? For many of us who came of age in the more prosperous times of the late 1980s and the tech boom of the early 1990s, it’s hard to imagine organizations having to fight to the finish for the few crumbs that are left. I fear a future in which we have individually and collectively lost confidence in our ability to solve problems, overcome challenges, and create our own, better reality.
How to face this fear. Continue to think “abundantly.” This is perhaps the hardest but the most important challenge. This is less about data, statistics, and interest rates and more about faith, hope, and determination. After all, one of my favorite sayings has always been: “The facts, though interesting, are frequently irrelevant.”
Despite the sobering facts of our current time, the lesson of our history is that from great crises are born equally great solutions and new innovations. And I believe that our time will be no different.