Over the past few weeks as a new normal begins to take shape, I have had the opportunity to participate in several learning and professional development opportunities. I’ve had the pleasure of attending industry conferences for the Association of Black Foundation Executives (ABFE), the Virginia Funders Network (VFN), and Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO). After operating in a mostly virtual professional environment for the past few years, connecting with and learning from peers has been inspiring and rejuvenating. Below are a few themes from the conferences that continue to resonate with me.
- Collaboration moves at the speed of trust. It’s so easy to get caught up in our to-do lists, frenzied schedules, and drive for productivity. Building trusting relationships with community members, nonprofit partners and donors is key to collaborative work. This means taking the time to get to know each other, our stories, worries, and aspirations. It also means showing up and engaging in ways that are important to our partners.
- Social change is fueled by our collective ability to dream and envision bold possibilities. The past few weeks I learned about incredible work happening in Rochester, NY, Charlottesville, VA and Chicago which has inspired me to see new possibilities for our work in Alexandria. What if spending time dreaming and visioning was not a luxury but a core component of our work with our partners? What new possibilities could we create?
- Inaction is the enemy of change and progress. Often the complexity of the issues and challenges that we seek to address can lead to inaction. A clear, certain pathway forward is not always visible. Resource constraints, planning paralysis or fear of making mistakes can keep us stuck in comfort zones and more rooted in the status quo. Even small steps forward – even if they end up being a misstep – can help us learn and evolve. We can be thoughtful and intentional and move forward even if we don’t have the perfect plan or have all of the answers.
These themes can sound like platitudes and slogans that you might read on a motivational poster. However, as I reflect on ACT’s work over the years, I see how these ideas are manifested in our achievements. For example, when Spring2ACT was launched 12 years ago, few could have predicted that one day 170 nonprofits and nearly 8,000 people would participate, raising $2.5M. We started with what we knew, adapted, learned and added new features along the way. Building strong relationships with nonprofits, donors and the local business community has been core to Spring2ACTion’s success. As a result, it has become one of the most successful giving days in the country.
Another example is the Youth Support Network. Informed by the success of the Early Care and Education Working Group, the Youth Support Network emerged because ACT is a trusted partner. We were seen as a natural home for messy, uncertain work rooted in a shared vision: Alexandria is a place where every young person in Alexandria has what they need to succeed in school and in life. As we bring partners together we are learning how we can leverage strengths, build collective knowledge and deepen trust.
Finally this summer, we will embark on a strategic planning process and I look forward to engaging you in the process. Strategic planning is an invitation to double down on the insights above – to focus on building trusting relationships, collectively crafting bold dreams for the future and taking meaningful steps forward into that future. I can’t wait!