5 Things I Learned as a Nonprofit Leader During COVID-19, Part 2
While we haven’t reached the end of the COVID-19 crisis, I’ve spent some time reflecting with my team on what has worked well — and what we’ve learned — about how to manage a crisis together. Here are our top five lessons learned that we will take with us as we continue to navigate this crisis, and any new crises we may face in the future.
Click here to read part one of the series.
3. Ask for Help
This may sound obvious, but as leaders, it can be difficult to ask for help. We’re expected to know how to respond to every situation, manage every crisis and take it all in stride. Our program can only have the impact it has within our community because of the community partners who support us every day. And over the past few months, we’ve needed them more than ever.
I encouraged our staff to clearly identify their needs and reach out to partners who can help us. We have 80 pounds of food donated by a local catering company to help feed our participants. Local health officials helped by providing us guidance on how to keep our campuses, our staff and our participants as safe as possible. We partnered with a telemedicine company called RelyMD to provide free health assessments for our team, so they didn’t have to travel off-campus for services. Thanks to our strong support system within the community, when we asked for help, people responded immediately.
4. Let Staff Lead
One of my biggest concerns throughout this crisis has been managing the milieu on campus. How is staff morale? How are participants feeling? What are some ways we can adjust to meet new needs right now? I’m only one person, but I lead a team of amazing people. I knew that I couldn’t manage all of those needs alone. We gave our staff flexibility and authority to take the lead on problem-solving, and one of the areas we felt we needed some support was managing the morale on both of our campuses.
At a remote staff meeting one day, one of our employees came up with a great idea called the “reverse parade.” Instead of having participants in the parade, we would invite their support team — friends, family, colleagues and community partners — to parade past our campuses in their vehicles and celebrate our program participants.
I wasn’t sure who would end up showing up for the event, but it turned out to be an incredible event! Dozens of supporters came that morning, decorating their cars with banners and balloons, playing music and leaning out their car windows to say hello and cheer on our staff and participants. I think the smiles on our faces lasted for the next week.
5. Establish a Culture of Trust
Of course, establishing trust takes time, but it’s worth the effort. Several years ago, our organization was under the leadership of an individual who saw every criticism as a personal slight against him and his work. It was debilitating to staff and created a culture of secrecy and shame for many employees. I’ve worked hard to rebuild that trust between our staff and our leadership team, and I’m grateful that we’re in a much healthier place today.
Early on in this crisis, I had a few staff express their concerns to me around a few decisions I had made. As a leader, it’s easy to have a knee-jerk response to criticism and feel personally threatened. However, the philosophy I always try to keep top of mind is that everything is about our mission.
I had an employee several years ago tell me that she didn’t share news with me because she was trying to protect me. I told her, “You don’t have to protect me. You just have to protect our mission.” Healing Transitions isn’t about a staff member or an individual. Regardless of who sits in the captain’s chair, our work is about keeping the door open for people seeking help with addiction and homelessness. That’s our center. So, when I’m confronted about decisions or issues within our programs, I don’t take it personally. There is value in having different — and dissonant — sources of opinions within your team. It is too easy to become blind to your own flaws if you only listen to like-minded counsel. Operating from that framework has created a sense of trust within our team, and it has allowed us to better weather this unprecedented crisis together.
It may sound strange to say that I’m grateful for this time, but there have been beautiful moments amidst the disaster. I’m not sure if these things are happening more frequently or I’m just noticing them more. One morning, I heard singing and followed the found to find a staff member doing a call-and-response song with the security officer. Another day, there was the sound of piano playing coming from behind a closed door, and when I opened it, I found a participant working on a new song. There are so many of these small moments in our life at Healing Transitions that have been good for my soul. It’s been important for me to take time to pay attention to those little things, even while we continue to face this crisis together.
Chris Budnick, MSW, LCSW, LCAS, CCS is the executive director at Healing Transitions and has been working in the addiction treatment and recovery field since 1993. Chris became a Certified Substance Abuse Counselor in 1998. He graduated from East Carolina University in 2000 with a Master of Social Work. He has been fully licensed as a Licensed Clinical Addiction Specialist since 2001; a Licensed Clinical Social Worker since 2002; and a Clinical Certified Supervisor since 2003. He was an intern from 1999 to 2000 with Healing Transitions and has been employed with them since 2000.
Chris has been an adjunct instructor with the North Carolina State University Department of Social Work since 2002, and has served on their Advisory Board since 2003, serving as chair on two different occasions. He also serves on the Recovery Africa Board.
Chris has conducted training and presentations nationally and internationally. Some of his most rewarding work has been collaborating with Mr. William White and Mr. Boyd Pickard on the history of mutual aid recovery fellowships.