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Celebrating Our Wins

Dana Thewis  | Published on 7/8/2021

The past 14 months have been anything but ordinary. Being in the nonprofit sector where funders want to see goals met has been tough. We didn’t create goals that match the services provided during an unforeseen pandemic. Can we reallocate funds and revise our goals to show whether our organization is doing the best we can? (And then some?)

The organization I work for serves seniors in our rural community. COVID turned things upside down.  Even though we (thankfully) didn’t have high spikes in case rates, we still had to follow the recommendations being put out by the appropriate governing bodies. It was hard to explain to the community why we couldn’t continue to provide the services they were wanting. However, we had funders give us a lot of grace. They allowed us to be flexible with our resources so we could meet the needs that emerged that were within our capacity.

Some days we were running around in a chaotic blur, but other days were focused, purposeful, and maybe even went as planned. Well, according to plan C or D. We made a significant impact in our community, but not through our “normal” service channels. Nor were they through our planned projects.  We couldn’t have in-person social events during a pandemic. We did have radio BINGO, though.  Volunteers couldn’t visit people in their homes or deliver meals and food to them without extra precautions and PPE, but they put on masks and gloves and ding-dong-ditch every person on our service list.

When we were looking back at 2020, we realized that although we didn’t do the things we planned, there was a lot to celebrate. Our grocery delivery program  exploded. We had new folks wanting to volunteer.  We added a third Meals on Wheels route with school district employees filling the open driver spots. Kids became pen pals. Volunteers packed and delivered (socially distanced and with appropriate PPE) gift boxes to isolated and home-bound seniors.

Our metrics look very different this year. According to the goals set in 2019, we did less but we celebrate the flexibility and creativity of our staff and volunteers. With a staff equivalent of 3 FTE, approximately 60 active volunteers, and a few extra folks sprinkled in for good measure, we served 382 (unduplicated) people. To me, that is 382 reasons to celebrate! One participant even sent us money for pizza and pop at a staff meeting because she was certain we hadn’t been celebrated or thanked enough. The wall of thank you cards, or the phone calls that expressed gratitude, showed what we were hesitant to recognize - we were serving our community. We were crushing goals we didn’t know we had. We can be flexible, we can adapt, and we can do so while continuing to serve a vulnerable population without shutting down services for a single day.

I don’t know what your organization looks like, but I bet you achieved similar things as well. Don’t get so stuck in the metrics that weren’t met, or you will miss the ways you impacted the population you serve.  2021 isn’t looking like what we expected. Well, I don’t know if we could really make a picture after last year.  But we are continuing to serve and meet needs. It still doesn’t look “normal,” but weren’t we taught in middle school that “normal” isn’t a thing? Be yourself. Do your best. Throw out your preconceived notions of what your work must look like and celebrate the wins that happen every day.