At the end of 2020, the Colorado Nonprofit Association team recognized the weight from the past year - not just the weight on nonprofits, but also the weight on the people behind the nonprofits. Countless surveys and information were being shared about nonprofit organizations but there was limited information about what the nonprofit workforce was feeling and experiencing. Conversations were centered around support for organizations but not support for the workforce.
In March 2021, Colorado Nonprofit Association conducted a survey that centered on the workforce and the humans within the nonprofit sector. Instead of asking about organizational challenges and revenue impacts, the Association asked about personal impacts and changes to job roles that express the realities of working within this sector. The Nonprofit Workforce Impacts: Reflections from Colorado Nonprofit Association is an exploration of the human experiences for those carrying out missions and creating community impact.
Throughout this report, you’ll hear from different Association team members as we reflect on the findings and experiences from the past year, and years prior, that were exacerbated by COVID-19 and racial reckoning.
As you read the report, we encourage you to also share your reflections, experiences, and challenges with the nonprofit workforce to be shared on the Reflections Wall below. Submit your reflections to the Reflections Wall.
Reflections Wall: Voices from the Workforce
In the nonprofit sector, I often hear “you can’t pour from an empty cup”. The metaphor speaks to the energy and effort employees put forth to assist, enhance and create community. Along with the reality that impact can only be made when employees have the means to do mission work without burning out. Reviewing the data collected around nonprofit workforce experiencing loss, instability and personal or relational health decline made me hyper-aware of the humans behind the work being done. Imagine, you work for an affordable housing organization who has tools, networks, and knowledge to assist people in need of housing and you lose your job and financial stability in the resulting waves of Covid-19. Not only are the people who turned to you for expertise and assistance in increased peril, you yourself could end up in need of the same services you were providing. Read Lindsay's full reflection in the report.
Reflection by Lindsay Newman, she/her
As a survey respondent, reflecting on the findings provides me a deep sense of belonging and also overwhelming heartbreak. I acknowledge my fellow nonprofit workforcers who bravely shared about their losses and the emotions tied to those personal impacts. Thank you for showing up so vulnerably and authentically. This report is a call-in and call to action for our Colorado nonprofit community to thoughtfully address individual isolation, stress, loss, and fatigue before it overwhelms. I cannot always name what I need to feel emotionally and mentally supported by my work family. However, I know when I need to leave a meeting without warning, nap during the afternoon, walk outside with my doggos, or plan an untouchable day. My sincere hope is that grind culture is replaced with grace culture, lifting up the necessity of rest/recovery, honoring collective healing, and celebrating the humanness of our Colorado nonprofit family. Read Maureen's full reflection in the report.
Reflection by Maureen Maycheco, she/her
George and I spend Octobers in Wisconsin, where I’m from. I always arrive full of energy, ready to get a lot of things accomplished during this semi-retreat. This year, I spent the first 3 days in bed, totally lethargic and unable to do anything. Didn’t even want to eat or drink, as getting out of bed to use the bathroom was just too overwhelming to think about.
I might not have mentioned this to anyone, being a little embarrassed by it – but yesterday, I was talking with a pal from Denver who works in food security policy; she told me, with some shame, that she’d finally carved out the time to go to Santa Fe for a few days, restoring herself by visiting museums, which she loves to do. She went to her first museum, and 15 minutes later, left: “I couldn’t handle it. It was just ‘one more thing’ on a to-do list and so I went back to the hotel and went to bed for the next 3 days. I longed to at least read the novels that had piled up last year, that I’d brought with me, but I couldn’t even do that.”
Comparing notes, she and I also noticed that we’ve felt that our memories weren’t what they used to be, either. I’ve read enough articles to know that chronic multitasking affects short- and long-term memory, but also negatively affects emotion, motivation, and even the ability to distinguish between important and less important tasks. I’m guessing that, in the nonprofit world, as we’ve had to do more tasks with fewer people, and plan for many alternative realities, we’ve become champion multitaskers.
I remember in summer, 2020, hearing a national funder of mental health programs worrying that the pandemic would burn out the caregivers and counselors – and then what will happen? Nonprofits are caregivers for their communities. None of the nonprofits in the Gunnison Valley closed its doors last year, and some have emerged stronger than ever. We’ve done incredible work, serving our neighbors who need assistance, protecting our environment, offering opportunities for joy and re-creation, fighting for our democracy. We are Rocky Mountain People, right? We are tough and we get the job done!
Yes. We get the jobs done – very well. But has there been a toll? I’d known that “self-care” matters, and I spent countless hours in my garden this summer, figuring that to be was the “me time” that I needed; I thought I was coping just great. It took 3 days in bed, looking at the ceiling, to realize that I’d gotten the job done – but that there had been a toll. Has it been true for you, too?
Being who I am, my first thought was, “Let’s have a workshop! Let’s find a facilitator to spearhead a conversation!” And I’m more than happy to do that if people wish. My second thought was, “Who wants to just get together for an informal beverage to share experiences?” And I’m more than happy to organize something like that if people wish. Let me know.
I don’t have a solution to offer (of course, I feel that I should) except to wonder if there are ways to find personal pre-emptive solutions, before motivation and memory (and probably effectiveness) start to slip. Spend a day a month in bed with a good novel – even if you don’t think you need it - to avoid a big crummy crash? Or, well, maybe we actually need the recalibration of that dramatic 3-day crash and we just need to recognize that it can happen, maybe it needs to happen, and embrace it when it does. I don’t know. But pay attention. As the airlines say, “Put the oxygen mask on yourself first, and then help your neighbor.” You are needed here.
Reflection by Maryo Gard Ewell, Community Foundation of the Gunnison Valley