November 02, 2022

POV: Nonprofits—Crushing It, Or...

By Jill Bennett

When you see the word crush, what comes to mind? A kindling of a playground memory, where a certain someone’s grace and form on the kickball field captured your young heart... leaving you with the precious memory of those tender new feelings? (Bob O., if you’re out there, please know that I happily remember how far you could kick a red rubber recess ball—and how completely disinterested you were in me!).  

If not kickball, then perhaps the word “crushing” sparks a memory of your most recent success: a personal best on or off the field or a time when you hunkered down and persevered despite the size of your challenge. Perhaps you crushed a recent pitch or presentation for your organization.  

But maybe when you think of the word “crushing,” it’s more of a kick-in-the-head than a kick-of-the-ball. Crushing is also the heavy weight of all the stuff—the rise of hate speech, the polarization of elected officials who prioritize party over people, the long waits for care from mental health professionals, the war in Europe, price increases, changes in donor behavior, concerns about the climate—that you feel daily. If you feel like you’ve been “lurching from one crisis to another without really drawing breath,” there’s now a word for it. However, we take no joy in the U.K.-based Collins Dictionary’s word of the year, permacrisis. 

As people whose care for others permeates their souls so much that they’ve dedicated their careers, free time, and hope to causes greater than themselves, nonprofit professionals, volunteers, and boards feel this “extended period of instability and insecurity” intensely. These feelings can feel inescapable. 

So what do we—as feeling human beings in a community of feeling human beings— do? For much of my life, my response would have been to minimize the problem and reframe it in a positive light, then put my head down and affix my shoulder to the wheel and press on. I was not the person to sit with fear and sorrow. Cat Steven’s Moondance, with these lyrics:

And if I ever lose my mouth
All my teeth, north and south
Yes, if I ever lose my mouth
Oh, if, I won't have to talk

felt more like practical advice than a way to find hope in any situation.

I see the world differently today. As individuals, we need to stop and literally take a breath. Flailing about only serves to exhaust our already tired selves. None of us, as individuals or as organizations, have shoulders broad enough to carry the solutions for these problems forward. Working together—pooling resources, sharing ideas, and operating in concert—will give us a fighting chance.  

We’ll be sharing some specific ideas for how we can accomplish this together soon. And in doing so, create a world in which students have safe schools, opportunities to learn, and clean air to breathe while launching that kickball onto the school roof.