The Wood River Valley is what it is because of nonprofits. They guide your meditation, they provide the soundtrack for your evenings, they give you your furry best friends, they teach your kids to ski/hike/climb/learn, and so, so much more.
And yet, I just learned that the beloved people who have made it their lives’ work to create the culture and community of the valley are riding out this pandemic on part-time salaries—or have been released from their duties altogether. My heart is shattered.
So I thought I’d send a message to the place I still consider home: It’s time for a revolution. And you won’t be alone, I promise. Funders around the country are turning a lens inward, questioning whether the way things have always been done is the way things should be done. In a pandemic. As we reconcile the connections between racism and capitalism. Google Community Centric Fundraising. Read works by Vu Lee. There are great minds doing good works.
Do you need to ensure the corpus of your foundation is there to preserve a legacy 20, 50 years down the road? Or could you transform the landscape of the valley today? Do you need to ask for metrics, lengthy applications and reports when you could say, “I believe in you, because I have felt the impact of what you do.”
The organization I serve today has received, in the last month, second gifts from foundations that already support us. We didn’t ask for those gifts. Those leaders looked at their capacity, and they sent us a check. And we’re not talking small change. We’re talking gifts that add up to more than a fifth of our budget. And not a single string.
It’s time to double down, or the valley you love isn’t going to be there when this pandemic is over. How long can folks scrape by before they have to make realistic life choices and move on?
If you are fortunate enough to have money in a foundation or donor-advised fund, spend it. Now. Yesterday. This is the rainy day you were preparing for. Take a tax-free distribution from your IRA. Talk to your financial advisor about other options.
Give these staff members the mental space to move from survival to ingenuity. Allow them to envision a valley that’s stronger and more delightful than ever. Seek out every single nonprofit that has had to reduce hours or release staff and say, “I’m here for you.” Pay their costs for 2021. Ask these organizations what they need to make it through the next year. Don’t make them write a grant application, and for goodness sake, please don’t ask them to launch something new. Nonprofits, be transparent about where you are. If you’re set for the moment, turn donors to other organizations that need to be bolstered, or designate a mutual aid fund. Who there in the valley could launch a coordinated effort?
All boats rise together, and the future of the valley depends on you. Will you lead the revolution?
Lisa Huttinger is a resident of East Roxbury, Vt.