By Janice Gow Pettey, Ed.D.
Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can. -John Wesley (attrib.)
In less than four months, we have faced one of the worst pandemics of our time and entered into sustained sheltering in place for months. We’ve seen cities and towns go quiet. Businesses and schools closed. Large gatherings ceased, and the magnitude of the crisis grew from curbing the spread of COVID-19 to the damage to the economy.
This month the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 14,405,967 jobs were lost. At the end of April, the Department of Labor announced that 30 million Americans filed for unemployment, representing roughly 18.6 percent of the U.S. labor force.
Those who were fortunate to have a job, likely found themselves working from home. As schools were closed, those with children juggled parental and quasi-teaching responsibilities while working remotely. Those are the fortunate ones. Forty percent of the workforce making less than $40k a year lost their jobs in March.
We are seeing the effect on nonprofits. A recent survey conducted for Charity Aid Foundation (CAF) of 544 local and global nonprofits reports that 96.5 percent of the survey respondents indicated they were negatively impacted. The top three indicators were: 67.9 percent report a decline in contributions, due to donors giving less and the inability to reach donors; 63 percent have experienced travel disruption, including cancellations and the inability to work effectively, including contacting clients, donors and recipients; and, 56.4 percent report an issue with client relations, leading to the inability to meet expectations of those they serve due to inefficiency or barriers to service, such as canceled public events or face-to-face operations.
Nonprofit fundraisers need no reminding that the challenges are intense. The needs of those we serve are more urgent. Those nonprofits with marginal or no reserves are making decisions on how to maintain levels of service with fewer resources to a growing population of those in need of services.
Embedded in this vortex of heightened need and limited resources in communities shaken by the pandemic and a contracted economy are empathy and equity, both I submit as necessary for our individual and collective well-being in these very challenging times.
Like many of you, I read and hear about job losses, business closures, and lost income on a daily basis. A search for data on nonprofit jobs lost is not readily available. Data on aggregate nonprofit revenue lost in the last two months is non-existent. Eventually, we will have the data, and the financial losses will likely be great.
It’s the loss of human capital and the toll this loss has on our continuing ability to help and provide for those we serve that also needs to be addressed. This blog post focuses on empathy, and the next will address equity.
Empathy is the ability to sense other people’s emotions, along with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling. We use affective empathy to describe our response to others’ emotions, a first step to compassionate action.
Reflect on the first responders in hospitals providing care to COVID-19 patients as an example of compassionate care. We see or hear of examples of those who display empathetic behavior. But what happens when we become the needy? A single parent with school-aged children is also a fundraiser for a nonprofit providing essential services to the aged population in his/her community. Revenue is lost from canceled events and corporate sponsors, and the need for services is growing daily.
This fundraiser works from home with a growing workload. The children may need assistance in accessing school lessons remotely and there aren’t any more hours in the day. This is not an isolated example; there are likely hundreds of thousands of workers like our fictional fundraiser.
The point of this is to recognize that those who are the “empathizers” may also need support. We need to be self-aware of our limits and needs, seek support as needed, and realize that there are others to help carry the burden of care. Do our organizations’ values address empathy? As ethical organizations, we need to address empathy as an imperative.
The need to provide services and critically-needed revenue should be balanced with empathy, a core emotional intelligence competency, which allows us to see others and truly understand what matters to them (both internal and external stakeholders) and what they care about.
Empathy leads to heightened awareness of the needs of others as well as our own. We may learn that there may be other ways to demonstrate empathy, or that we see we don’t all think and act alike.
Here are a few examples to heighten organizational empathy:
- Recognize the early signs of staff burnout, and give all staff one day off with pay monthly (for as long as practical).
- While employees are working remotely, recognize the competing demands some may have with children and other family members. Relax traditional office hours and encourage staff to work the hours best for them.
- Encourage and support informal networking channels like Slack where employees can gather to chat informally.
- Not all employees have the same access to internet services and not all employees have space in their home to work effectively. Provide the necessary support to help them succeed in their new work environment.
- Encourage virtual walks for 1:1s. It’s a great way to get outside and meet at the same time.
Self-care is always important, and more so right now. It’s not selfish to address your needs. Rather, it’s essential that we need to have the emotional, mental, and physical strength to be a part of a larger community which exists to help others. Practice self-care by doing and being centered on building a stronger, more empathetic you.
We are in this together, and we’re in this for a while. It will be better as we work together and share our successes and challenges widely.
Janice Gow Pettey is a nonprofit consultant, author, and noted authority on diversity, ethics, and nonprofit governance. She has a doctorate degree in organization and learning from the University of San Francisco, and has served both as CEO and led the development for various national and international organizations.
Gow Pettey is the author of Cultivating Diversity in Fundraising and the editor of Nonprofit Fundraising Strategy: A Guide to Ethical Decision Making and Regulation for Nonprofit Organizations. She is an adjunct professor in the School of Education at the University of San Francisco, and teaches for The Fund Raising School at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.