Being the Executive Director of a faith-based nonprofit is hard work. Now, you may roll your eyes or let out a little grunt because of the physical toil your job requires. Fair enough. However, after working odd jobs in college, serving as a pastor 16+ years, and running my own small business, this is the hardest thing I have ever done.
It feels as though every day I'm tasked to be a driven CEO, fundraiser extraordinaire, marketing genius, grant-writer, public servant, community advocate, problem-solver, good boss, strategic planner, spiritual sage, and practiced counselor. Switching the hat at the right time and in the right way is often difficult and demanding. I would not say I have it figured out, but I am becoming what some might call seasoned.
The personal revelation for me in all of this is the proximity and power of the nonprofit in the landscape of community. Nonprofits are positioned on the frontlines of such needed work for some of the most at-risk populations. Whether it be the homeless man, the trafficked woman, or the endangered child, day in and day out local nonprofits sit side-by-side with real persons in real pain. That is proximity.
Often times, before church relief or government assistance is sought, the nonprofit is invited to help. The influence of an outside specialist is sought. The entity funded, many times by the church and the state, is then given first chance to bring hope in the midst of crisis. Nonprofits are awarded the opportunity to provide direct care while building bridges between the church, the state, and the service recipient. These are bridges that must be built, and well. That is power.
I consider the proximity and power we've been given a privilege. The work I do is not to simply draw a paycheck. No, this is about calling, about purpose. This is about pouring hope on the pains the community in such a way that what springs forth is not greater dependence on social service but a deep belief in the trajectory of one's personal empowerment. In my eyes, I see the autonomy of people, in position to their awareness of the divine, as immensely powerful. Therefore, I can set aside the stress of the executive life (some days better than others) when I know I have shepherded my work, my team, my constituents well. The real privilege is to see those once riddled with need rise up in new-found faith and freedom.
Then there is the reward. Today, I spoke to a mother of a 10-year old girl who had emptied out half of her piggy-bank to give to our work. After reading a note about her gift and determining her geographic location, I realized this girl thought she donated to a nonprofit in Texas with a similar name. When I explained this to the mother that I wanted such a precious gift to go to the right persons, she spoke with her daughter. I could the two of them quietly discussing off the phone as I waited. The mother returned to the line to announce that her daughter thought this was a great cause too and maybe the mix-up really wasn't a mix-up. Wow! I was choked up on the phone. Ten years old and she sees the power and proximity of nonprofit work.
Yet another reward. Today, I spoke to a man who was released from prison after 37 years behind the walls. He served the time for his crime, one he remorsefully admits to committing. No matter your views here, you can agree the world has changed a lot in 37 years. There were no personal computers, iPhones, or pay at the pump gas stations. He stated that he felt slightly overwhelmed in the hustle bustle of it all (an understatement I'm sure). He shared that even the hardwood floors of our re-entry home made him nervous. "Concrete doesn't creak," he said. Since his release, he has been able to meet with a brother from New Jersey, eat at a Golden Corral, and get acclimated to life in the FOCUS New Beginnings House. Volunteers and students alike were celebrating with him. In that moment, I saw men surround this man with amazing love and support. That was my privilege today.
No matter how stretching the Executive Director life can be, I must remember the proximity, the power, and the privilege.
~ Shawn Stutz