For Impact


Five Mindsets To Help You Think “In These Crazy Times”

Daily Nuggets | | Nick Fellers

I’ve probably been on the phone with 30 different nonprofit leaders in the past 30 hours. It’s interesting that they say something like:

  • “It’s a really interesting time.”
  • “Wow, things are really crazy.”

Everyone is trying to pick the right words…. the right words so that they are not too fearful… and the right words so that they are not too cavalier.

Right now, I want to share some mindsets I’ve been using for myself and with nonprofit leaders. I think they’ve proven helpful as a way to sort out scenario planning and action… sanity and opportunity. 

Before I share the mindsets, I need to share a metaphor, which I quickly latched onto, offered by Sasha Dichter (THANK YOU, SASHA!) about information and experience waves.

Sasha writes, “One thing I’ve noticed over the past week is that we’re all on different Coronavirus waves. Each wave is separated by a few days or maybe weeks, and each brings with it a different experience of how real, and close, this pandemic is. I expect that what’s going on in Westchester County, where I live, is a lot like what happened in Northern Italy two or three weeks ago, and that what we’re experiencing will soon happen in other parts of the country.”

I’m fielding calls from all over the world and the first thing I try to understand is which ‘wave’ the other person is riding. 

Last week I was in Florida speaking to 150 people and many people were still shaking hands. This week I was with a smaller group closer to home (Ohio) and nobody even thought for a second about trying to explain the social awkwardness or uncertainty of shaking hands. It was full-on social distancing. Those realities are one to two waves apart. I also talk to people in parts of the country where the Coronavirus is just a news story; they’re two to three waves behind.

This wave framework has allowed me to start to build out five different mindsets. I’ve been working in this world by deliberately shifting between five minds:

  • Current Wave. In terms of sorting things out there are a lot of unknowns. So it’s been helpful to say to others, “The conversation we’re having at this moment is in the context of the current wave.”
  • Fourth Wave. The ‘fourth wave’ scenarios are tough to talk about because others can perceive them as fear-mongering, especially if they’re two waves behind or ONLY focused on the current wave. But we NEED to be preparing for the fourth wave, and then we need to hope that all those scenarios are not needed.

    For example, internal to our business at For Impact: We’ve been preparing virtual training scenarios for weeks. We’ve been expecting key conferences to get canceled, and we are prepared for how to help nonprofit leaders when everything goes virtual once an organization or a community is on some kind of lockdown.

    It has really helped to slip back and forth in thinking between waves. It’s been helpful to say, “Bear with me, but this is a fourth wave conversation we need to have.”
  • Today’s Work. Thinking (about waves and scenarios is essential!) but there is also work to be done TODAY. ‘Today’s work isn’t about a ‘wave’. It’s about what’s in front of us RIGHT NOW. There are hungry people who need fed at lunch – right now. Or more simply, there might be something like payroll which needs to be run (today’s work performed). Those actions need to happen. And so this is a third mindset: “I am working on what’s in front of me at this moment and I’m going to give it my/our all!”
  • The Other Side. I have no idea what’s going to happen. But I know this: at some point, the waves will stop coming. I have found myself coaching other leaders to stop thinking — in this mindset — about the waves, and jump to the end.
    • “What will be needed of your team?” 
    • “What will your community need?”
    • “How will we have the most impact, once we are on the other side?”

      On the other side of this, I know…

      Funders will actually step up more than ever. In 2008-09 I remember meeting with a private equity partner and asking him, “How are you doing in this economy?” He LAUGHED and said, “We’re gobbling up companies at pennies on the dollar.” That year, ‘charitable giving’ went from around $306Billion in the US to $303Billion. The stock market tanked 40% and in ‘Charitable Giving terms’ it was not even what the stock market would consider a correction.

      The big-time philanthropists will double- or triple-down on helping others and the human spirit will show up as it always does. We are already hearing stories from the field of philanthropists accelerating their gifts, and taking other actions to ensure the continuing health of the non-profits they support. For example, I spoke with a wonderful philanthropic leader and dear friend yesterday and she said, “While it’s socially responsible to be canceling these events, it is our (social) responsibility to help these organizations now more than ever. It’s just going to take us a few weeks to figure out what that looks like.”
  • Humanity (A more meta fifth mindset).

    The comparative mythologist, Joseph Campbell, observed that it is the ‘fight against something’ which is what brings cultures together. As we look around the past few years this has been used in a divisive way around the world — creating partisan politics and tribes. Strongly uniting small cultures. This crisis has the potential to unite more of us around common causes; it all depends on each of our responses.

    • People will begin to say, “Hey, science DOES matter!”’ 
    • We will rise above partisanship.
    • We will unite in a way that gives us a chance with even bigger challenges, like climate change.

Trying to sort everything coming at me was really getting to be a challenge. I needed to stop and have a way to THINK and WORK in the now. To THINK and PREPARE for the just-in-case. And then I have made a habit of jumping to the CERTAINTY of tomorrow… what we can control in terms of the IMPACT and OPPORTUNITY after these waves subside.