‘Grace’ and ‘trust’ can carry us forward said panelists at ‘Silver Linings’ last week

On Thursday, Sept. 9, 202,1 leaders of local organizations gathered in the Grand Foyer of UW-Green Bay’s Weidner Center for an event called “Silver Linings & New Insights: A Gathering of Nonprofit Leaders.” The purpose of the gathering was to share positive changes stemming from the pandemic and was jointly sponsored by the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and the University of Madison Extension Brown County.

Troy Streckenbach, Brown County Executive, opened the event by praising the work of local nonprofit organizations responding to the pandemic. He noted the collaboration established by the County with the University’s Center for Civic Engagement to support nonprofit organizations in northeast Wisconsin. Their collaborative work includes the Excellence in Nonprofit Leadership Certificate/Badge, a five part training series on fundraising, board development, financial management, human resources, and marketing strategies for early-career nonprofit managers. Other capacity-building and networking programs are planned, including Zoom Leader Conversations, training for boards of directors, and programs for executive leaders. Find more information.

Thursday’s panel included:

Michael Alexander, Chancellor, UW-Green Bay
Christine Anderson, Executive Director, Washington Island Community Health Program
Dennis Buehler, President & Greater Green Bay Community Foundation
Devon Christianson, Director, Aging & Disability Resource Center of Brown County
Kristin Jacobs, Executive Director, CASA of Brown County

Each speaker shared examples of how their organizations had altered policies and procedures to ensure that they could continue to serve the public during the pandemic, several important themes emerged that had faced most of them:

  • Organizations learned deep insights about the people that they served: “their needs were in plain sight more than ever before,” one said. Listening to consumers enabled the nonprofits to adapt or develop new systems to help their clients more effectively.
  • All panelists talked about the requirement to take risks, to experiment with new methods and to “jump in” without the typical research and planning. Funders and government had supported this risk-taking, encouraging nonprofits to meet the needs of their communities in any way that they could. Most talked about how these innovations made them more effective in serving the community.
  • Every panelist discussed reliance on new technologies learned quickly. Zoom meetings opened doors to new networks of peers and enabled program providers to speak face to face with consumers or their families. While sometimes difficult to put in place, these technologies proved invaluable as never before.
  • The pandemic enabled organizations to undertake long-desired projects or initiatives, such as re-organizing service delivery, revising curriculum, meeting with funders and improving websites. The pandemic created some space and time that had not been available in the push of daily operations to enable major improvements to certain aspects of work.
  • The fact so many community members wanted to help their neighbors really became clear during this time. Millions of additional dollars were donated. People stepped up who had not volunteered before to ensure that meals were delivered, children were protected, and that people could obtain healthcare, for example.
  • Finally, speakers used the words ‘grace,’ and ‘trust’ to describe the tone that they hoped would carry us forward. During this time, we must grant each other space to do the best we can amidst the pressures and strains of the world around us. This spirit of acceptance, kindness and common-purpose can take us a long way to continuing to enhance our community even once the pandemic has waned.

One speaker summed it up: “The ‘why we do it’ has not changed—our mission is still front and center—but the ‘how’ has clearly changed.”

Submitted by UW-Green Bay Associate Prof. Lora Warner; Photo by Lilly Vang, Americorp Vista for the Center for Civic Engagement

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