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November 9, 2021

One of my favorite proverbs is, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” But when Covid took hold, as leaders, we had to go both fast and we had to go together, not only to deal with the immediate impact of the pandemic, but also the far-reaching consequences that continue to affect so much of our lives and organizations. It isn't easy, and I salute all of you who are continuing to do it today. 

With an ever-changing landscape requiring diverse leadership skills, the strain on nonprofit leaders shows no sign of relenting. We hope you'll find support and help in these insights on leadership from our team of consultants.

Let's stay connected.

Mary RobinsonCapacity Partners Founder & President 

Leadership in Unusual Times

This is an important moment for leaders, and one of your most important tasks is to hold onto your talented staff during the Great Resignation. You need a proactive approach; don’t wait for your best talent to quit before you come up with a strategy.  

What do you need to create in order to make your current work place attractive?  This is the question you want to use to guide you forward. Have one-on-one conversations with each team member you are committed to retaining. Ask these questions: “What are your career goals over the next 3 years?  What are your ideal work conditions that would support you to thrive here in this organization?” Encourage them to think out of the box and then be prepared for the answers and most importantly - deliver!

The days of treating everyone the same are over.  People are different and have different priorities.  Organizations that recognize this and are nimble at responding to their most important resource - their people - will thrive!

Jeanine Cogan, Leadership Coach & Consultant

Require all leaders and staff to watch Ted Lasso? In other words. Listen, Lead, Learn, Trust, Manage, Respect.
We increasingly need to be focused on the 'listen' in leadership, especially as we navigate changing workforce demographics and needs. I see as a paradigm shift in how we are trying to tease apart work and life health.

Margo Reid

The thing that springs to mind is the obvious one: recognize your level of burnout and that of your staff. In the words of my rabbi, “I’m not ok, and you aren’t either.” Give people permission to voice that sentiment and do so as their leader. Make space to celebrate the good things and give space (time off) for micro-recovery. 

Joan Schaffer

The pandemic lobbed assaults on two of the fundamentals of leadership: accountability and inspiration. While we used to hold our teams to accountable measures of productivity by having regular in-person meetings and face-to-face check-ins, we now hold them accountable by phone and Zoom. Very different. The expectations are still there, and the meetings are still scheduled, but the intensity and intimacy of face-to-face is no longer there.

And while we used to lead by inspiration at our regular team meetings, we now try to inspire during those same Zoom sessions. Instead of facing our team around the conference table, we now face video teams while our kids finish their homework in the room next door and we attempt to ignore the many other distractions inherent in using homes as workspaces. It certainly makes inspirational leadership more of a challenge. Yet for those who follow you, there have been zero assaults on the fundamentals of following.  They still check-in, make meetings, give reports, and show they are inspired by reporting in on their non-commuting, upgraded way of life. Not only are you challenged in leading, you must also make allowances for the emotional strain caused by Covid and the stress of sometimes-intrusive work-from-home environments.
Eventually life will come back to normal. Some version of hybrid working will play itself out. But don’t forget one of the cardinal rules of leadership: If no one is following, then you aren’t leading.  Make every effort to get within the confines of your team members’ adjusted lifestyle.  If you are not certain your team is fully bought-in, then take a step back and ensure each of their commitments.

Steve Longley

I think my advice for leaders is the same now as it was before the pandemic - It is important to plan, and communicate that plan. And even more important is to be ready to pivot from that plan and make a new plan. 

Amy Selco

I was fortunate to be witness to the outstanding leadership of Jolanda Campbell, Executive Director of Greenwell Foundation in St. Mary's County, Maryland during the pandemic.

Greenwell's mission is to design and implement outdoor, nature connection therapeutic and recreational programming for people with and without disabilities on the 600 acres at Greenwell State Park.  When COVID shut their programs, Greenwell had no fee-for-service income and the bleak prospect of cancelling ten weeks of summer camp.
The best words to describe Jolanda's response are:  transparency, flexibility, accessibility, creativity, and optimism. Weekly email updates kept stakeholders informed, and they made sure they were at the front of the line for PPP funding. Staff pivoted to virtual activities within a month, offering, for example their environmental programming for adults with intellectual disabilities on a weekly basis on Zoom.

Every communication began with "we are still here" and ended with deep gratitude for the love and support of the community.  Staff, board and the community never doubted for a moment that Greenwell Foundation would continue to serve thousands of their neighbors. Today, buoyed by the absolute optimism, creativity and relentless forward momentum of Jolanda and her staff, Greenwell is so busy combining fee-for-service with grant funded programming that they've hired new Nature and Equestrian instructors and made some part-timers full time. A valuable and admirable demonstration of leadership!

Barbara Wille

In my experience both as an Air Force officer and corporate executive, the one essential element of the effectiveness of a leader over the long term is respect; i.e. whether or not team members or subordinates respect their leader.  Any leader can coerce performance to some degree for a period of time by threats or inducements, but even that level of performance cannot be maintained where respect is lacking.  Unlike performance, respect cannot be coerced; it must be earned, and the sine quo non of respect is integrity.  Leaders must always be a model of integrity; subordinates must see that the rules apply equally to all in the organization.  Only when a leader commands the respect of his or her members, will they perform "above and beyond" to accomplish the mission.

Dan Wacker   

When the pandemic started, I was leading a large community-based organization with a mission to bring people together. I led the same organization through the great recession a decade earlier. The pandemic was a completely different crisis, affecting public health, the economy, and our operation with a higher level of uncertainty and chaos than I had ever experienced in my 35 years as a leader of for-profit and nonprofit organizations.

At this point in the pandemic, every leader understands the terms “pivot” and “resilience” in a new way. Early in the pandemic we were just making it up as we tried to synthesize and assess so much new and changing information every day. The environment created incredible stress for the organization, including professional leadership, staff, board, members, beneficiaries and other stakeholders.
Looking back, what enabled me to lead through the chaos and stress was using a leadership perspective called outward mindset that puts the needs of others - key stakeholders and the organization itself – first, and not hunkering down and turning inward (see “The Outward Mindset” by The Arbinger Institute). It sounds simple and natural, but it is difficult to instill in an organization’s culture. For me, it requires constant practice and self-questioning under normal times, let alone when one is under immense pressure.  I changed the cadence of my one-on-one, team, and staff meetings to check in more frequently and focus on how they were feeling in addition to what they were doing. I sought ways that I could be helpful and a resource to them and was totally transparent about the reality of our situation. A key to being available to others was managing my own stress (regular exercise for me). I believe that an outward mindset enabled us to successfully pivot in the way we served our community and maintained employee loyalty through difficult temporary layoffs. As a leader, I like to think I am in control. Through this crisis I needed to accept the reality of how much I could not control, and recognize that I could only control how I responded.

Michael Feinstein


Capacity Partners offers a full range of strategic and development services offered via consulting, interim staffing, facilitation, coaching, and on-site project management.

Organizational Assessments
Retreat and Meeting Facilitation
Implementation Planning

Equity Audits
Two-Part Equity Planning

Capital Campaigns
Feasibility Studies
Wealth Screening
Major Gifts Strategies
Grant Writing

Board Training and Counsel
Governance Structure
Board Engagement Strategies
Board Assessment

One-on-one coaching
Small group coaching packages

Executive Search 
Interim Staffing
Management Assistance


Capacity Partners is a consulting firm based in Bethesda, MD, dedicated to strengthening the impact of nonprofits. We blend best practices and original thinking to guide nonprofits to achieve transformative results.

Mary Robinson
President & Founder

Laura Apelbaum
Jeanine Cogan

Louise Stoner Crawford
Julie Crudele
Kristen Engebretsen
Michael Feinstein
Amy Ginsburg
Debra Liverpool

Steve Longley
Margo Reid
Joan Schaffer
Amy Selco
Daniel Wacker
Sara Watkins
Barbara Wille



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