Leading through Uncharted Waters
“We are in unprecedented times” is a phrase we have heard often in 2020. The definition of unprecedented is “never done or known before”. The word unprecedented implies that we do not know what we are doing, which is unsettling.
And yet, I argue, that as people of faith, we do know because we enter uncharted waters all the time. Rather than giving in to the fear of “unprecedented”, our faith calls us to lean in and provide compassionate, inspired, clear and confident leadership.
Everyone has been affected by the pandemic in some way. We don’t know how long it will last, and there has been unclear communication about it at local, national and global levels. And yet, it does not mean we do not know where we are going. If we lean into our values, we will always know the way.
The Catholic Foundation’s values called us to be generously empathetic, confidently transparent, and faithfully inspired. Early in 2020 our team chose to rapidly respond to the pandemic with clarity, faith and hope. We sought to follow best practices that we know intrinsically. Leaning into our ability to be agile, we made several strategic moves that tested our services and embraced steep learning curves. We aimed to boldly respond to our community in crisis.
On Friday, March 13 all of us learned that the next season of our lives would not be “business as usual.” Our prayer was to be deliberately calm, consistently faithful, passionate, hopeful and of service to our community.
“The first thing we did was to listen to our community. Our team immediately reached out to our partner parishes and nonprofit organizations to ask how they were fairing and assess what they needed.”
The first thing we did was to listen to our community. Our team immediately began reaching out to our partner parishes and nonprofit organizations to ask how they were fairing and assess what they needed.
Working virtually, we quickly processed the information gathered, determined what mattered most, and committed to acting with conviction. Listening to the circumstances firsthand allowed us to lead with empathy and compassion, focusing less on what our organization needed and more on how we could provide assistance.
It was clear that securing funding and providing critical programming was going to be a challenge for our partners. With the goal to be most helpful we:
- Communicated to all of our 2019 grant recipients that we would take critical steps to accommodate them. Our team articulated trust in their leadership and our partnership to provide them the leverage to use grant dollars in line with the original intent, as best as they could. We trusted the funds would be used as the need was greatest; all they needed to do was tell us how the funds were spent in their end-of-cycle grant reports.
- Used our resources to provide additional training to our nonprofit and parish partners to support them in seeking underutilized grant dollars in this time. We provided two virtual training sessions for over 80 participants.
These two acts communicated to our partners, and their boards and supporters, that the Catholic Foundation has their best interests in mind and will be beside them all the way.
We also needed to be confidently transparent with our board, Founders’ Circle members, and fund holders. These groups, like many of us, were concerned with the market and the long-term plans for their charitable funds. We knew we needed to lean into our values of charity and transparency.
Business guru Amy Edmondson recently wrote, “Transparency is ‘job one’ for leaders in a crisis. Be clear what you know, what you don’t know, and what you are doing to learn more.”
We sought to communicate through thoughtful, frequent and personal communication to share that the Foundation was top of the situation, adjusting accordingly, and learning every day.
“Transparency is ‘job one’ for leaders in a crisis. Be clear what you know, what you don’t know, and what you are doing to learn more.”
Together with our investment team at Merrill Lynch, the Catholic Foundation hosted a market update webinar on March 31. We invited our fund holders, donors, preferred advisors and potential partners. We discussed the state of the market, position of the Foundation’s portfolio during these uncertain times, and the important role of donor advised funds. We named what we did and did not know. We committed to open dialogue and to keeping them informed.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced our communication and outreach to adapt. We began to rethink the role of our strategic partnerships, build visibility, and ensure our messages are relevant, relatable and respectful. We began to lean into prayer, into our connections, and share our stories more vulnerably.
In the early months of the pandemic, we heard from many supporters that they wanted to do more but felt struck and were not sure who to support. Rooted in our mission to serve both donors and local ministries, our team quickly shifted to provide a rapid response in our Catholic community and created the Catholic Faithful Response Fund (CFRF). The CFRF was created to make it easy for donors with a one stop giving location, lighten the burden for ministries by taking care of marketing and administrative tasks, and evangelize to Southeast Michigan about the collective response of Catholics.
The CFRF had nearly 40 organizations represented in our granting catalog from amongst pre-vetted organizations with whom the Foundation had a prior relationship. The Foundation staff and grant committee was overjoyed to be able to serve donors who wanted to give, to learn more about community ministries doing great work, and to discern where to direct the undesignated dollars which came to the fund. The community was also invited to participate in a vote to designate some of those dollars.
“Responding to where the need is the greatest and allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us is definitely how I would describe this past year. None of what we did was really ‘planned’.”
“Responding to where the need is the greatest and allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us is definitely how I would describe this past year. None of what we did was really ‘planned’,” reflects Project Director Christina Shabo.
Another example of the Foundation’s faithfully inspired action was the creation of a fund to support the Felician Sisters of Livonia, as a personal response to the tragic losses in their community due to COVID. Local leaders got involved, and the story made national news in June. However, the national news stories were informing and inspiring readers, without inviting them to take action.
Foundation President and CEO Angela Moloney asked the news media for an invitation to tell a more personal story of loss, hope, and an invitation to take action. That invitation resulted in roughly 800 gifts of support from over 35 states and 4 countries.
Leading through Uncharted Waters
The Foundation’s experiences through the uncharted waters of these months of pandemic have brought many challenges, many opportunities to experiment with new ideas in the face of change, and the opportunity to practice letting hope permeate our work.
As a Christ-filled people, we can be grounded in a hope for the future that draws us forward. We know generosity is happening. Our communities desire not false assurances but the opportunity to grasp on to specific examples of hope and a vision of a brighter world.
So let us enter these uncharted waters with our eyes on Christ, even in the winds and the waves. Let us not be afraid.
This reflection is drawn from a presentation that Catholic Foundation President and CEO Angela Moloney gave during the International Catholic Stewardship Conference on September 24, 2020.