October 29th, 2013: Hurricane Sandy takes out so many power grids, that children wear snowsuits at home in Breezy Point.
September 11, 2001: The Twin Tower collapse is so broadly felt,
that a nine-year-old in Colorado sends his entire $1 allowance to a Disaster Relief Fund in New York.
These two events have more than a decade between them, but the Robin Hood Foundation’s Emary Aronson drew on them equally, as a panelist at the Better Business Bureau’s Charity Effectiveness Symposium VII: Resilient New York - How Nonprofit Leaders Are Managing the Unexpected.
Hosted by Baruch College’s School of Public Affairs, the symposium drew more than 300 representatives of the foundations, social service agencies, and community organizations on the front lines of New York’s safety net. Speaking of lessons learned and strategies gained, panelists told of managing the unexpected in visceral, technical and even humorous ways. They extolled collaboration. They worked across sectors. They praised fear, as the mother of invention. Really. They praised fear.
For Funders like David Okorn, Executive Director of Long Island Community Foundation, collaboration expressed in the“boots on the ground” work to house and feed the stranded. He noted its mandate, too, in working with long-term funders to address damage and destruction that affected over 100,000 homes. The Brooklyn Community Foundation’s President, Marylyn Gelber, described social media’s catapult, from Luxury Good to Life-saver. And Ms. Aronson’s remarks, as Managing Director of the Robin Hood Foundation’s Education & Relief Fund, completed the profile of engaged funders at work.
They tweeted to hold on to overlooked regions; and their board members used personal cell phones to connect with isolated communities. Above all, closer alignment with fellow foundations was key.
In the category of Leaders, panelists touted resilience from the inside, out. Co-Director of Community Resource Exchange, Valerie K. Laedlein, extolled the virtues of transparency and of consultants who ask “hard questions in a very positive way.” (Laughter in the hall.) The brass tacks of grant-seeking in an increasingly metrics-conscious climate were discussed, too, as was the need to delegate authority (“There’s no shame in a leader not having all the answers...”).
The line between “funder” and “leader” became vague at best, with a keynote by Sheena Wright, President & CEO of the United Way of New York. Many who spoke, including Ms. Wright, have personal contexts for the source of resilience. Stories of challenges as parents, Peace Corps Volunteers and entrepreneurs abounded.
And at the end of the morning, the vote was unanimous, as expressed by one of the Symposium's five moderators. In the realm of the unexpected, “you can always count on heart and generosity.”