Broadening Perspectives:

Staying Nimble, Compassionate, and Connected

            Across Central New York, the United States, and the world – 2020 has been a year defined by disruption. Even with the divisions we face in so many areas, nearly everyone agrees that this year has shaken things up in ways that few of us have seen in our lifetimes. As we prepare for the holidays and look ahead to 2021, we need to understand what that disruption really means and how we can prepare for it. At the Gifford Foundation, we believe that the key to this lies in balancing consistency in mission with flexibility in practice.

Sheena Solomon is the Executive Director of the Gifford Foundation.

            When we talk about disruption today, the first thing people think of is the coronavirus pandemic. There is no question that this public health disaster has turned our world upside down, but the truth is that this trend did not start just this year. Growing social movements and rapid tech advances have been shaking things up for much longer. As the future grows harder to predict, and change occurs faster and faster, we need to stop being surprised and start adapting together.

            I want to share with you a few of the ways that all of us at Gifford are working to stay true to our mission while remaining flexible in our approach. We have remained steadfast while listening and addressing the needs of the community. We collaborated with The Central New York Community Foundation to offer a free Digital Collaboration workshop series aimed at teaching local organizations how to transition to a remote work environment and improve board development. We modified our “What If…” minigrant program to provide rapid response funding to grassroots initiatives. We also unveiled a brand new capacity building program Embracing Disruption: Resilience Amidst a Changing Environment designed specifically to teach nonprofits how to be more flexible and adaptive.

            The inspiration for Embracing Disruption came in part from our decision to commission an intensive third-party evaluation of our other capacity building initiative – ADVANS. The lessons we learned from that review combined with our observations about the ways we see the world changing shaped our vision for our newest program. Similarly, we have adapted the curriculum and structure of our board development series Nourishing Tomorrow’s Leaders to keep attendees socially distant and to train them in remote board participation.

            As we come to the end of the year, I have been thinking a lot about a quote: “It is not the strongest or most intelligent that will survive but those who can best manage change.” (Charles Darwin) We have to open ourselves up to new ways of living and allow ourselves to let go of old habits and traditions that may no longer have a place in today’s world. Every day on the news we see how our communities, nonprofits, and other institutions are evolving. As individuals, we should strive to do the same. Your values don’t have to change, but maybe the ways you support them do. Be intentional: think about what beliefs are important to you. Vote with your dollars. Hold your elected officials accountable. Get to know your neighbors. The future is unpredictable, but if we stay nimble, compassionate, and connected – that doesn’t have to be a problem.

Sheena Solomon, Executive Director

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