The new normal for a not for profit
18 May 2022 at 12:39 pm
While the pandemic presented great challenges, it was also a great opportunity to re-evaluate leadership and growth in a not for profit, writes Compassion Australia CEO Clare Steele.
I knew stepping into the role of CEO at Compassion Australia would require me to deal with change and uncertainty. Yet when I began this position in January 2020, I could never have guessed the scale of change that our organisation – and the world – would soon be facing.
We now find ourselves more than two years on from the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In many respects, this global crisis pulled the rug from under our feet. Our usual ways of operating have been flipped upside down, perhaps never to return to what we knew. So, where to from here?
At Compassion Australia, we’ve needed to look ahead and forge new paths. Our organisation, like many others, previously relied heavily on in-person events and field trips to engage people with our mission. When these experiences were no longer possible, our team needed to become increasingly adaptable in an ever-changing environment.
Global poverty has worsened at the same time, and we’re acutely aware of the urgent and changing needs of children we serve during COVID-19. I am so thankful that during this challenging time we have been able to grow our impact towards our mission.
The pandemic is certainly not over, and neither is my learning on leadership. But when I reflect on the past two years, three significant learnings stand out.
1. Self-leadership comes first
You cannot lead others well if you are not first leading yourself. Recognising and managing your own needs during periods of change is so valuable. Being self-aware of your reactions helps separate personal anxieties from professional decisions, and taking the time to look after yourself in this way enables clarity during uncertainty. Good rhythms are important here. Steve Cuss, leadership development author and teacher, talks about having a “life-giving list” of activities to do if you feel under pressure. These activities could be big or small, take five minutes or two weeks. My list involves spending time outdoors and doing handstands with my daughter, which bring us both a lot of joy and laughter.
2. The mission remains central
The pandemic has had a devastating impact on the children and families Compassion Australia serves. Many parents have faced an impossible choice: socially distancing at home or earning a daily wage to feed their family. Children have missed out on years of education, with some likely never to return to the classroom. Slavery numbers have risen and child marriages are increasing. That’s why the generational impact of interventions that break the cycle of poverty is powerful. Compassion Australia’s mission is to see children released from poverty in Jesus’ name. Keeping our mission central to our decisions, no matter the circumstance, maintains our focus on why we work as we do. With our mission front of mind, Compassion Australia prioritised two key actions during COVID-19; reducing operational expenses to send more funds to our local partners, and helping our supporters understand the true impact of the pandemic on children in poverty.
3. Define the culture
Equally integral to mission is culture. For Compassion Australia, the past two years have required many shifts in our day-to-day work, but how we work has been important to define and hold firm. When we articulate what is important for us, and seek to intentionally live those things out, we are propelled forward in our mission together. A healthy culture is also critical to our wellbeing. After a season of listening, evaluating and defining our shared values together, we recently launched a series of new cultural values for Compassion Australia. We’ve shifted towards a culture that cultivates unity and a willingness to move forward even amid uncertainty. And it’s been my privilege to watch the team living and breathing these shared values together.
All of us have navigated new territory over the past two years, and I am still learning daily. But whether it’s COVID-19, or another challenging situation, change will always be part of our world. I invite you to keep dreaming big and exploring new ways to grow and adapt.
What is it that you can do in your organisation today that sets you up to face the challenges of tomorrow?