Strengthening Your Resilience as a Nonprofit Professional

We’re hearing a lot about resiliency nowadays, and rightly so. But what is it? Different people define it in different ways. Here’s my take on the question.
 
Resiliency is the ability to carry on with hopefulness despite adversity — to be shaped and informed by hardship and tragedy but not crushed by it. It’s the ability to find workarounds and fresh ideas when old ways evaporate or become useless. It’s the ability to continue the good fight in the face of less, harder, not-nows, and  maybe-nevers. It’s the ability to rebuild, refine, and retrofit. It’s the will to keep caring no matter what.
 
Most of us bounce back quickly from the bumps and scrapes that are part and parcel of everyday life. But throw in a little chaos and crisis and things can begin to unravel. Resiliency helps us hold it together while working to regain equilibrium.
 
Having spent years raising grant funds to support services for young people, I’m familiar with risk and resilience studies related to youth development (and there are lots of them).  Recently, I’ve also been looking at articles on resilience in adults and in organizations. Each resource has a slightly different slant on what promotes resilience, but they have a lot in common.
 
The experts agree that personal traits such as optimism and tenacity contribute to resilience, and that external factors in an individual’s environment play a huge role. Here, we’ll focus on the nonprofit work environment.  
 
I invite you into a loose experiment. Using a variety of resiliency resources, I’ve constructed a list of factors that relate to our work as nonprofit professionals. This is a mash-up list, not a word-for-word or item-by-item cut-and-paste from other lists.  Although the questions focus on those who work in nonprofits, consultants can easily interpret the questions to fit their situation.
 
Consider the ten resiliency factors below and contemplate which are securely in place and which are weak or absent. When you identify a weak spot, think on what actions you can take to shore it up. According to the literature, more resiliency factors equals more resilience.
 
1.  Support — Do colleagues understand and value your work? Do they provide support and assistance? Can you safely ask for help? Do you have meaningful relationships with colleagues? Do you feel connected to other community organizations?
 
2.  Communication —  Do colleagues and administrators exchange information and ideas openly? Do you feel well informed concerning the operations of your organization? Do you feel free to ask questions and express opinions? Is communication consistently professional, civil, and supportive?
 
3.  Purpose & Values — Is your organization mission driven? Are you inspired by the mission? Does your organization maintain clear, ethical standards? Are you encouraged to set professional goals?
 
4.  Empowerment — Can you influence decision making? Is your opinion a factor in go/no-go decisions on projects and policies? Do you feel respected?
 
5.  Balance — Does your job encourage a good life/work balance?  Are you able to maintain social relationships and friendships and to pursue personal interests and hobbies?
 
6.  Clear expectations — Is your role clearly defined? Are the outcomes you are expected to produce defined? Do you receive consistent, supportive feedback and supervision?
 
7.  Commitment to Learning — Are you encouraged to expand your knowledge and skills? Do you have opportunities for professional development?
 
8.  Flexibility — Is your organization responsive to community needs? Can it pivot quickly to meet challenges? Does it allow flexibility in work hours or work location to meet employee needs?
 
9.  Social Competence — Does your organization support teamwork, nurture staff connectedness, celebrate successes, and speak truth to failures? Does it work well with other community groups and nurture authentic partnerships?
 
10.  Safety & Self-Care — Do you feel professionally safe? Are mistakes considered learning opportunities? Are you encouraged to care for your mental and physical well-being?
 
Is this scientific? No. Think of it as a catalyst for self-examination and discussion. Since connectedness and communication show up in one form or another in every list I have found, let’s take this opportunity to connect in Foundant’s Compass Community to begin a robust, supportive discussion.

About the Author

Barbara Floersch

Barbara Floersch has over 40 years' experience managing nonprofits, writing grant proposals, and administering grants. She has raised millions of dollars in grant funding, served as a reviewer for federal grant competitions, trained thousands of nonprofit staff members throughout the US and internationally, and has testified before Congress on reauthorization of the National Endowment for the Arts. Floersch was a trainer for the Grantsmanship Center from 2000 to 2021 and served as the Center's Chief of Training and Curriculum for 12 years until her retirement in January of 2021. She has published hundreds of articles, has been a regular contributor to the NonProfit Times, and is the author of Grantsmanship: Program Planning & Proposal Writing, the updated, expanded edition of Norton Kiritz's seminal work in the field.

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