Researchers have been investigating personal resilience since the 1970s with the hope of understanding the unique set of characteristics that allow individuals to endure trials, adapt and often emerge stronger and healthier than before while so many others get stuck.
Less is known about organizational resiliency. Researchers and entrepreneurial thinkers have started asking:
What are the qualities that organizations need to endure rapidly changing market conditions, recession or catastrophe?
RCLA, in partnership with the Center For Applied Research (CFAR), took up this question with CEOs and senior staff from grantee organizations of the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation at a working session.
• They look both backward and forward, at the individual, organizational, and ecological level;
• When faced with adversity they reach out, not pull back, and they resist the temptation to hunker down;
• They are tolerant of uncertainty and adapt to evolving contexts;
• They resist isolation by focusing externally on clients, collaborators and opportunities;
• They develop a strong sense of moral purpose and use this to unify their people around the ends—the results and values for clients, the community and the society—rather than allowing financial stress to pull them into overemphasizing the means; and
• They support leadership that resists contraction and opportunism in favor of development and responsiveness.
At the working session, people offered examples that may offer important lessons in times of turbulence.
Sister Paulette LoMonaco, the executive director of Good Shepherd Services, recently began focusing a significant portion of her time on external stakeholders. She discussed how this shift has helped her organization become more forward thinking, collaborative and effective in advocating for policy change.
Marc Maltz of the Boswell Group highlighted findings from his research on Sandler O'Neill, an organization that lost much of its staff in the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and emerged less then a year later stronger and larger than ever.
Marco Petruzzi of Green Dot Public Schools discussed how the financial downturn, which has been especially devastating for education in California due to the state’s budget crisis, opened space for collaboration in what otherwise may have been a competitive environment. His organization and other charter school management organizations have joined together both to apply for shared funding and to advocate for broader reforms.
Resilience, essential for ensuring nonprofits' longevity, has become even more important in today's financial climate. As the working session illuminated, however, it is foresight before, during and after a crisis that characterizes the truly resilient.