Reflecting on the Past to Move a Nonprofit Forward

Drexel University’s Gupta Governance Institute and Grant Thornton’s biweekly Nonprofit Directors Dialogue Miniseries features nonprofit leaders and board members as they share insights and strategies for turning today’s challenges into tomorrow’s successes.

What are the lessons learned from the tumultuous events of 2020 that nonprofits and their boards can carry forward into 2021 and 2022?

If you actually sit down as a board and think about what you’ve learned, you actually have very rich discussions. So, I will pick a non-profit institution as an example for this. At the Philadelphia Zoo we are dependent on live interaction. That is our whole message: you get to see the animals live. One thing that we learned when the lockdowns were really strict and before we could reopen the gates was that, there was tremendous demand from people to still stay connected to their favorite animals at the zoo.

We had virtual sessions in the afternoons and we found that we had to really evolve how good we were at that. One of the lessons learned is once our doors are wide open again, we’re still going to have to be great at these virtual education sessions and connections.

There are a couple of other things, both positive and negative, that we’ve learned in terms of how people work. One of the things that has come out of this has been that you’re “on” basically 24/7 when you are living in a Zoom world. I think people are actually going to be looking for some boundaries again, in terms of being able to carve out some personal time. I think this is going to be very important for organizations to sit down and talk about it.

One of the things I’ve noticed when I interact with lots of frontline people, whether in the corporate side or the nonprofit side, is they are burnout. People are just really, really tired and it’s because they’re taking care of kids, and in some cases educating them, or worried about elder parents or family members. And on top of everything else, they have this job that’s now 24/7 because everybody knows where they are. I think there’s going to have to be a real assessment around that. I’ve never been a fan of the term work/life balance. I don’t think it really exists. I’m much more fan of the term work/life integration. I think there’s going to be huge opportunities there and that’s one of the areas I hope people are going to pay a lot of attention to as we come out of this.