COVID-19 has thrown 2020 into disarray. There is no doubt that we have all experienced tremendous change since March of this year.
However, crisis gives leaders a chance to shine – and that is what exactly what we have seen in these past months. Thirty leaders in higher education and healthcare shared with us some of the challenges facing them at this time, including onboarding and team cohesion for remote staffs, as well as strained budgets and uncertainty about the future.
However, these big thinkers and optimistic leaders also cited a number of positive outcomes, including implementing change quickly – change that would have normally taken years to successfully implement, including transitioning to working from home, switching to virtual events, and thinking differently about the future of their organizations in myriad ways.
Wade Johnson, CEO of St. Peter’s Health in Helena, Montana is leading through the many challenges facing hospitals and health systems at this time, as well as responding to new and changing community needs. “We are also helping other organizations navigate through changing environments. For example, the School district is concerned about having enough educators, so SPH is putting together a pool of substitute teachers to help the local school district.”
Paul Rucker, Vice President, Alumni and Stakeholder Engagement and Executive Director of the University of Washington Alumni Association “Our overarching challenge in the next 60 days is recognizing that we’re in a marathon and not a sprint. Our success will be determined not by the convenient measures that we have historically controlled but by key performance indicators that the community will set for us. “This pandemic has exposed the need for resilience among our professionals….Resiliency is a must for success.”
Dan Peterson, Vice President for Development and President of the University of Washington Foundation; Josh Newton, Senior Vice President, Advancement and Alumni Engagement, at Emory University; and Scott Mory, Vice President, Advancement at Carnegie Mellon University all agreed that inspiring confidence and maintaining productivity over the long term is crucial.
Newton: “Continuing to motivate the team and maintain a [high] level of productivity will continue to be one of our greatest challenges.”
Mory: “My biggest leadership challenge is keeping up my team’s sense of community, morale and momentum as the remote work continues, and it looks likely that we won’t be returning to campus [for some time].”
Peterson: One of the biggest leadership challenges in this environment is continuing to inspire confidence in the face of difficult headwinds….However, necessity is the mother of invention.”
And from a VP who started his new position in June, on not letting remote work get in the way of meeting donors and soliciting gifts…Jay Kahn, Vice President, Development and Alumni Affairs at Georgia State University: “The challenge is keeping frontline fundraisers motivated and doing the x’s and o’s of major gift work.” Jay is working through that himself, and recently made a successful 8-figure ask over Zoom, with a donor he has not yet met face to face.
Caty Perez, Associate Vice President, at California State University, Fresno remarked, “Lately we have been reflecting on what we miss about being on campus …. The sound of the fountain, students bustling across campus, the Friday afternoon fight song from our clocktower chimes. For the remainder of the year, we believe people are thinking about what it would be like to name a classroom, or a study-space, because they remember how important that is.”
Kevin Corbett, Executive Director of Learning and Performance at the University of Southern California, stated; “The greatest leadership challenge is to meet or exceed our participation and financial goals. We know we will be challenged to meet them in this climate. A subsequent challenge is providing staff the necessary resources to meet these goals. On a very basic level, this means that they receive the informational, managerial and emotional support needed while we continue working from home.”
Steven Wallace, Associate Vice President, Major Gifts at Los Angeles’ City of Hope’s biggest challenge “will be supporting my fundraising team as all of us go into more months of possible isolation and distancing through upcoming holidays. In addition, speculation of an economic downturn will be a challenge for all fundraisers with so much uncertainty in the country and the world at large. 2020 has definitely been the most unusual year of my career.”
Christopher Johnston, former Associate Vice President for Development at Georgia State University, told us, “British novelist Roald Dahl once observed that ‘Somewhere inside all of us is the power to change the world.’ With this in mind, I am convinced that our continued personal commitment to prospects’ and donors’ enhanced engagement and relationships during the pandemic will greatly determine our successes.”
Even when discussing challenges, the leaders we interviewed cited a number of silver linings and exhibited great optimism. Watch for more on those “silver linings” in an upcoming edition of BRYANT GROUP’s News Bites.
Do you have challenges or silver linings you would like to share? Please click here to email us your thoughts. Thank you to all the healthcare, higher ed and nonprofit leaders who have generously shared their time and expertise.