What Does Resiliency Really Mean for Nonprofit Leaders and Their Organizations? | Beth's Blog

What Does Resiliency Really Mean for Nonprofit Leaders and Their Organizations?

Personal Productivity, Resilience

Flickr Photo by J Ronald Lee

I declared that resilience was one of my themes for the new year.    And, in writing a guest post about it over at the Packard Foundation’s Organizational Effective Blog, I shared the story of the boiling frog.    If a frog is dropped into cold water in a sauce pan and brought to a boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death.  It is a metaphor for the inability or unwillingness of people to react to or be aware of threats that arise gradually.

Burnout is like boiling a frog gradually.  As we describe it in our book, The Happy Healthy Nonprofit, burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion that occurs when we feel overwhelmed by too many demands, too few resources, and too little recovery time.  Often, we don’t realize the symptoms before it is too late.

However, according to scientists who conducted experiments, that premise is false: a submerged frog gradually heated will jump out.  So, is the boil the frog metaphor better to represent resilience?

Resilience is defined by most as the ability to recover from setbacks, adapt well to change, and keep going in the face of adversity.   In the nonprofit sector, resiliency is framed as both a leadership skill for nonprofit professionals as well as organizational capacity.

Resilience as a concept is not new.  In an influential article on the topic in the Harvard Business Review in 2002,  “How Resilience Works,” the author Diana Coutu breaks down the characteristics of resilient people and organizations:   “[They] possess three characteristics — a staunch acceptance of reality; a deep belief, often buttressed by strongly held values, that life is meaningful; and an uncanny ability to improvise. You can bounce back from hardship with just one or two of these qualities, but you will only be truly resilient with all three. These three characteristics hold true for resilient organizations as well.…Resilient people and companies face reality with staunchness, make meaning of hardship instead of crying out in despair, and improvise solutions from thin air. Others do not.”

Building Your Resilience Skills To Manage Workplace Stress

The World Health Organization identifies workplace stress as the “global health epidemic of the 21st century.”  The pace and demands of our nonprofit work are not likely to change, so it is very necessary that nonprofit professionals build resilience skills to effectively navigate working at a nonprofit.   The techniques that individuals can use to build resilience are a combination of mind shifts (from negative to positive) and mindfulness.   This Harvard Business Review article,  “5 Ways to Boost Your Resilience at Work.” offers some good tips.

The Greater Good Science Center defines resilience skills as being able to minimize the impact of stress which in turn helps us avoid burnout.   The Greater Good Science Center has collected many techniques that individuals can practice to boost their resilience on their website Greater Good in Action, including research-based exercises for fostering kindness, connection, and happiness.  The techniques help professionals build the self-awareness – so when work and life come to a full boil, you can bounce back.

One the technique they suggest to help you learn how to shift from a negative mindset to a more positive outlook which can lead to success.  This technique, like the others, are simple and can be practice for a few minutes every day and over time can help build up that resiliency muscle.

Building Nonprofits Organizational Resilience

The Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) has a resource collection on how funders can support resiliency.  They define organizational resilience as follows: Leadership development, capacity, and financial sustainability.

Some of the best thinking and writing on organizational resiliency comes from the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation Resiliency Resources.  They define organizational resiliency as the capacity to respond effectively to change, to adapt successfully to new and unforeseen conditions and circumstances – and to seize opportunity.  The Resiliency Guide describes seven organizational factors offers a checklist to help organizations better understand dimensions of each resiliency factor, and to identify aspects of resiliency that may need attention.  These factors include:

  • Culture of learning
  • Talent development
  • Outside In Thinking
  • Planning and Execution
  • Reputation and Effective Communications
  • Partnerships and Alliances
  • Financial Footing

How do you, as a nonprofit professional, think about resilience?  How do you practice it? How do you ensure that your organization is building its resiliency muscle?

One Response

  1. Absolom Masendeke says:

    I am working on enacting strategies for resilience building in human service organizations. I found the article exciting in shedding some light on the factors that need to be considered in building capacity for resilience. I am interested in the strategies for enacting some of these factors in the resilience capacity building process of the organizations. Are there any resources that can shed more light on strategies for the enactement of the factors so that they become part of the organization DNA

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