By Kerry Sitcheron
With the unprecedented demand for services, social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, natural disasters, and even increasing inflation, non-profit organizations are feeling the pinch and thinking now, more than ever, about the long-term resilience of their organizations.
Resilience is the ability to withstand adverse conditions while still delivering services and meeting the needs of clients, partners, funders, and other stakeholders. The concept of managing change and navigating uncertainties also falls under the definition.
Deepening financial precarity is a challenge for many non-profits.
Change is intuitive across the non-profit sector. This change includes changes in funding sources. David Feldman, Director of Learning and Development at the Edmonton Chamber of Voluntary Organizations (ECVO), opines that stable funding allows non-profits to be engaged in mission-critical work, and the lack of it can weaken an organization:
“The reality is that many non-profits don’t have the luxury to have mounds of money lying dormant in their bank accounts. They constantly rely on funding from government grants and donors, but at the end of the day, those funding sources aren’t always stable. And if any of those funding ever decrease, non-profits can be left in a rather threatening survival state.”
Indeed, as uncertainty around funding continues to loom, finding stable funding sources remains top of mind for many non-profit organizations. One non-profit leader puts it:
“If we don’t gain a handle on diversifying our funding sources right now, I worry about the future of our organization.”
While non-profits continue to think about how they can navigate the volatile sources of funding, it is vital that they also consider what their organizational future looks like, thinking deeply about the question:
The Advancing Organizational Resilience Initiative
The corporate sector has long had many resources and research dedicated to improving its organizational resilience with little focus on the non-profit world. As such, much of the data and resources do not capture social-serving non-profits’ operational nuances and human-driven structure.
To address this gap, ECVO and PolicyWise for Children & Families (PolicyWise) developed this initiative to support non-profits across Edmonton to strengthen their organizational resilience using an evidence‐informed Organizational Resilience Assessment Tool. Participants in the program also have the opportunity to engage in reflective learning and systems thinking through six non-profit resilience labs. Experienced consultants from the Alberta Community Support Network (ACSN) provide coaching and mentorship in strategic planning, governance, financial management, human resources and business continuity. Below is a summary of the initiative’s holistic approach:
“We know that a tool alone is not enough to move the needle on organizational resilience; organizations need to engage in reflective processes and have access to expert support and coaching. We anticipate organizations moving along a steady arc: from an immediate need to act now and protect the organization to a place of stabilizing and planning for the future and ultimately to a state of redesigning and reconfiguring their organizations. For instance, our Labs are designed for participants to give themselves the space to ask the hard questions, not the right questions, but those hard ones that explore ways that they can work differently, think, and operate differently within the ecosystem.”
Call to Action
Through the past few years of instability, non-profit organizations rolled up their sleeves and did what was necessary to meet the needs of their clients. There have been many stories about what non-profits can do when they band together, share resources and collaborate to serve their clients effectively.
As uncertainties persist, there is an urgent need for a coordinated sector response. Without action, the erosion of Edmonton’s critical social infrastructure will only speed up. A strong and resilient social servicing sector is in society’s best interest.
Non-profits should think ahead, plan for possible futures, and use current opportunities to propel their organizations to a sustainable and resilient future.
If your non-profit is interested in strengthening its organizational resilience and capacity to withstand change, the fall registration for the second cohort of the AOR Initiative is now open. You can reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about how to apply. The registration deadline is October 6, 2023.