When the Foundation’s Board of Directors adopted our Strategic Framework 2020 two summers ago, we committed to a new set of organizational values, some long-held, some aspirational, and some that would challenge us on a daily basis:
In All Things, We Will...
Build relationships – elevate or amplify the power of all who identify as women – be bold – share power – embrace discomfort – advance equity – challenge the systems built and maintained by oppression – enter partnerships and conversations with a learning mindset – support and celebrate each other – be in community
We did not know in the summer of 2018 that 2020 would challenge us to live these values, every single moment of every single day. Or that 2020 would force us to stop and evaluate how we, as an organization and as a team, were upholding these values as we responded not only to global health and economic crises but also massive civil uprisings.
Over the course of the summer, the WA Women’s Foundation staff took the time to process what happened over the first half of 2020 and developed future work plans with a new theory of operating, one centered around rest and joy, supporting and celebrating each other and challenging oppressive ways of working. Because this framing of the way we work is new to us and most likely new to our members – and may even be difficult to conceptualize when we seem to be bombarded daily with chaos and grief – we wanted to share how we got to our moment of reprioritizing and refocusing and what we decided to do to pace ourselves accordingly for sustainability. We hope in sharing this, you too will take a moment to reflect on how you can incorporate rest and celebration in your life so that you can continue to do the hopeful work that is needed now, more than ever.
When Urgency and Values Collide
When COVID-19 hit Washington State in mid-March, we – like other nonprofit organizations, foundations, and businesses – scrambled to shift our operations and programs to comply with Governor’s Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order. While attempting to maintain some semblance of “business as usual” through remote operations and Board and committee meetings over Zoom, we acted quickly to respond to our state’s nonprofit community funding and general operating needs. We also increased our member communications, advocacy efforts, and educational offerings. Through our weekly e-newsletter, we shared ways in which you could financially support community and mutual aid efforts as well as our grantees. We created the “Use Your Influence” communications campaign to share ways in which you could advocate to support the Washington State nonprofit sector as a whole. In March, we launched our “Let’s Talk Thursday” program series, which initially highlighted ways in which COVID-19 was affecting our community, exploring topics such as food insecurity, anti-Asian racism, and environmental justice. (Click the link for more details about our work)
When the murders of Ahmed Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd sparked civil uprisings across the country, we doubled down on our work again, knowing that publishing a blog post about our support for Black Lives Matter was simply not enough. On the day many protests gained momentum outside of Minneapolis where George Floyd was murdered, we pressed forward with our discussion of Ibram X. Kendi’s book How to Be an Antiracist. We created Reflection Rooms caucused by racial identity to give members the time and space to talk about the uprisings and their personal racial equity work. We made a grant to the Seattle chapter of Black Lives Matter and encouraged members to do the same. We hosted a Let’s Talk Thursday to discuss intersectional feminism, a lens for our work that is especially critical given that Black, Indigenous, and other women of color are bearing the brunt of racism and the COVID-19 pandemic. And although our responses to the pandemic and civil uprisings resulted in more work for our team, we knew that we had to meet the urgency of these moments head on, especially because of our responsibility as funders, educators, and community bridge builders.
But in the midst of fulfilling these responsibilities and being what most would consider “productive,” our “small and mighty” team found ourselves struggling to uphold the commitment we had to take care of ourselves and each other – because we were all physically and mentally exhausted. Although we never lost sight of the context of our work, we did not stop to account for and acknowledge how the context of recent events was affecting us on various levels.
While everything was not normal, we exceeded our “normal” programs and events production within the first half of 2020 compared to the whole of the previous year. While we tried to act “normal,” our remote operations blurred the lines between work and home, making it easy for white supremacy to enter the safe havens of our staff of color. And while we conversed with our community about building a new societal normal that would be more equitable and just, we continued to ask of each other’s time and energy as we would “normally” do. Whether it was working with members or ourselves, trying to meet these “normal” expectations sometimes led us to feel guilty if we couldn’t meet the demands. We also were seeking grace and empathy as we struggled to support each other as a team and meet our internal deadlines and demands. All of these tensions were made worse, because we couldn’t see and converse with each other in person on a daily basis. In June, at the end of our “normal” 2019-2020 program year, we found ourselves asking, “When we focus on maintaining productivity and normalcy, even in the midst of multiple crises, what do we lose? And at whose expense?”
This confluence of activities, feelings, observations, accomplishments, and grief led us to prioritize our summer period as not only our time to recharge and plan for the fall as we typically have done, but also a time to reset ourselves and our concepts of “normal” and “productivity.” With intention, we set out to identify what it looks like to fully align our behaviors and actions with our organizational values.
Putting Values into Practice
While we discussed in-depth how we could incorporate our “In All Things, We Will…” in all areas of our work and interactions with each other and the community, we primarily focused on how we could support and celebrate each other, because we saw all the other values elegantly fold into each other as a result. We knew this work would help us build stronger relationships, which in turn would help us be in community, elevate each other, and learn to share power. By building stronger relationships, we also were more likely to embrace discomfort, be bold, and enter partnerships with a learning mindset. In this sense, if we were not supporting and celebrating each other, we would have difficulty in aligning ourselves with the rest of our values.
We identified time for rest as one way of demonstrating support, so we used the summer to reflect on what rest meant to each of us. It showed up in multitude ways – time away from Seattle, meditating, enjoying a good meal, doing something crafty or sporty and non-work related, reflecting on traditional religious practices, napping, and flexible work schedules. Whatever we each chose to do, we encouraged each other to take time off. To ensure we incorporated more moments of pause during our work time, we also held each other accountable to respect the following wishes, which would allow for better work/life balance:
- We encouraged each other to create boundaries for work (e.g., take designated days as fully off from work and delete work email from smart phones). We also communicated any work boundaries we wanted others to respect (e.g,. no work-related texts after close of business). We also reminded each other to use paid sick time for mental health days whenever they were needed.
- We combined all program, event, and meeting calendars to align our work and create clearer communication with each other about expectations.
- We committed to not schedule back-to-back Zoom calls/meetings. While we were thrilled to be able to connect to more community members by a quick click of a button, we acknowledged that facilitating and participating in virtual work took a different type and level of energy than what was required in-person.
We also discussed how we could ask for support from you, our members. Unless you ask for support, no one knows that you need it. In making these requests, we are affirming that we, too, are an important part of the WA Women’s Foundation community; we, too, deserve care and attention as we extend care and attention to others within the Foundation community and beyond. Recognizing this became an exercise in understanding and breaking down power dynamics, and our hope is that this step will help all of us be in better relationship with each other.
Here are the ways that you can support us:
- Please read your e-newsletters for the most current information about events, programs, committee meetings, and Foundation operations, and be prepared for a slight change in the amount of content and our delivery schedule. Because we don’t have a staff member whose sole responsibility is communications, the production of our e-newsletter requires the time and input of all staff, and coordinating is more time-consuming and complicated when we are not in the office together. For the remainder of 2020, you will receive e-newsletters the first and third Friday of each month (as well as the fifth Friday, when applicable). With less production, there likely will be more content in each one, so please at least scan to the bottom!
- Please be patient with our response times. Because of the difficulty in managing the blurring of lines between work and home and the toll that this took on all of us this past spring, the Foundation offices are going to be closed every second and fourth Friday of the month (with the exception of November 13, the last day of Intersect 2020) through December.
- Please respect our need for rest. Like many of you, each of us experienced the disappointment of cancelled trips and vacations this year. We all need a vacation! When we take time off to rest, we will share an out-of-office message and will respond to you as soon as possible after we return to work.
As stated in our values, celebrating each other is intertwined with supporting each other. In the past, we did this through a single “Day of Joy,” when we celebrated the accomplishments of the past year and relished being in community with each other as a staff team. Now, we have a new practice of sharing the “small” wins through our weekly check-ins – moments of personal joy, what meal we enjoyed recently, or the completion of a project that was navigated through the new environment of remote work.
Do we have the “rest and celebrate” thing figured out? Not entirely – but at least we’re committed to working on it and checking in about it more often than before. Like we ask of members and the community to connect values with actions, we continuously work to do the same ourselves. Doing so makes us more authentic and responsive community members who together can influence community transformation. Transformation – it starts with each one of us.
Call to Rest
In sharing this account of our work and energies from this past spring, we are not saying this situation is unique to us; many nonprofit organizations are feeling the organizational and personal effects of this year. We recognize our privilege within the work. We are not frontline responders; we’re funders, and personally and individually, we are fortunate to have the resources that make it possible to find time to rest. We also know that many of you, like us, are juggling the demands of work with the demands of family, friends, and other aspects of life. Whether you are home schooling or helping care for loved ones, your life is different than it was a year ago, and you need rest, too.
We believe there is power in vulnerability and expressing the needs that make us human, which is why we ultimately decided to write this blog post. We want to hold ourselves accountable to put into practice what we are learning and what we hope for others. We hope you will continue to hold us accountable to what we say we will do, and hold yourself accountable to incorporating rest into your daily practice. In closing, here are some key lessons we hope you’ll take away:
- There is no need to act normal when everything isn’t normal – but also take the opportunity to reflect on what is “normal” for you, and how your “normal” may not work well for others. How, then, can we be and show up in the face of a “new normal”?
- Not everything is urgent, especially if you’re not working on the frontline or if your life isn’t on the line.
- Things take longer to do these days. Everyone is trying the best they can, and we are all at different levels of energy. Extend grace.
- As sung in the musical Hamilton, “this is not a moment, it’s a movement.” What we are witnessing this year will have long-term ripple effects – and for better or for worse, depending on how we choose to collectively act. But as we have seen throughout history, the fight for a more just society is never a short or easy one. And while we must fight, we must also rest and celebrate to get us to the next stage of where we need to go.
Resources – If You Want to Join Us in This Work
- Interview with Tricia Hersey, Founder of the Nap Ministry: In this NPR interview, Tricia talks about her work with the Nap Ministry and how rest can be a subversive, inventive, and liberating act. You can learn more about the Nap Ministry here.
- “Media Reckoning”: In this episode of the Call Your Girlfriend podcast, hosts Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman chat about the conflict between recent antiracist messaging and internal organizational behavior, and the role of power in these dynamics. During this discussion, they talk about the importance of connecting the dots between values and actions.
- “What Does It Mean to Center Healing Justice in Wellness”: In this Healthyish interview, BEAM founder Yolo Akili Robinson talks about the legacy of the healing justice movement and reimagining wellness for the collective.
- “Why Now, White People”: In this episode of the Code Switch podcast, hosts Gene Demby and Shereen Marisol Meraji reflect on the uprisings and the recent racial reckoning. During this discussion, they talk about how recent circumstances including the pandemic may have contributed to more visible, collective protests against police violence and systemic racism.
- “Why We Need to Stop Conflating Sleep with Rest”: In this Well + Good article, writer Danielle Dorsey shares how revisiting the definition of “rest” and meditating on its holistic nature has helped her see rest as a powerful, political statement.