If 2020 and 2021 have taught us anything, it is that the idea that what is ‘local’ is forever changed. Even in areas where we knew we were building relationships beyond our immediate cities and states, working during a global crisis has offered so many opportunities to become better connected to people regardless of our locations. It is a gift to receive outreaches from alumni and friends from around the world who see in our vision a common bond and I am hopeful that the ways in which we have shortened the distance through technology will continue to allow us to collaborate, to learn from and to help educate our partners about the continued and important work of ensuring access to excellence for the ‘whole people.’
In the midst of the Pandemic our Principal / Associate Head of School responded to an affirming note from a staff member with the line “our community is our strength.” Over the last year this statement has become our mantra. A year ago there were many uncertainties and questions. Today, while there are few answers, there is a greater level of confidence that with the strength of our community we can navigate the challenges that confront us with agility and a steadfast focus on serving the needs of our students and advancing our mission. Looking forward our goal is to continue to build on the strength of our community to enhance philanthropy, advancing our mission and the education of the whole person at St. John’s.
The pandemic, climate change, the economic divide and racial reckoning have only accentuated the need for, and appreciation of, the work we do at Boston Harbor Now. People have come outside and rediscovered the great outdoors and each other. Donors have stepped up like never before to keep basic services available for those who need it most – and for that we are extremely grateful. Many questions remain about the ability to impact climate change, become the equitable and inclusive society we have always aspired to be, while continuing to improve and grow the impact of nonprofits, the public sector and private sector by working together. Still, the future looks bright for BHN with new, more diverse leadership, growing public and philanthropic support, investment in infrastructure and climate mitigation, and most importantly, an increased appreciation of what really matters – the health and safety of our communities and our planet.
As an arts organization that relies on in-person attendance, the Rubin Museum of Art was hit hard by the pandemic. We had to close in 2020 for several months and lost related revenue – a 50% drop in membership and over 80 % in earned revenue during that year. However, our supporters immediately recognized the challenges this brought, and we saw an outpouring of support and generosity from all levels, and especially from those donors who could give more. In addition, with our first-ever virtual gala in 2020, we were able to reach more people worldwide, which had been unprecedented. From an internal perspective, this time provided an opportunity for the Rubin to pivot and work across departments by producing digital content as it helped us to realize our digital potential and push us to imagine the Rubin as a global museum. Going forward and as a priority, we are pursuing our digital efforts and enhancing our global reach (locally, nationally, and internationally). Coincidentally, our museum’s 2020 theme was impermanence, which in Buddhism, is a fundamental principle that unites humanity. These past two years certainly united the Rubin Museum in many ways. And recognizing that we can navigate our constantly changing world with grace, ease, positivity, and efficacy is something we—our communities, our organizations, and ourselves—can aspire to and practice every day.
One Word: Encouraging! I am hopeful and optimistic about the current and future landscape. And…I believe a key to our future viability and success resides with alumni and our ability to engage them in a way that is meaningful to them verses a way that meets our needs. Currently, we are seeing a 20% increase in alumni giving over last year point in time and a 290% increase in funds raised. We’ve worked hard to engage our alumni in new ways and several years of work are paying off. I believe that with committed alumni, together we can leave an indelible footprint at our institutions and provide truly transformational experiences for our students. Our future may very likely be in the hands of those from our past.
Predicting the nonprofit landscape a year from now is difficult because the sectors attracting the most attention today may have less importance if supply chain problems and the virus continue as top-of-mind global challenges. The mental health crisis in America, however, will continue to grow in prominence along with the need for sustainable solutions to housing and food insecurity.
When I reflect on the nonprofit landscape today, in many ways it has not changed dramatically from where we were one year ago. The fundamental needs are still alive and well: the need to connect our mission with those we serve at both the head and heart levels, the need to convey the story of the work we do together in ways that show our community members how vital their support is. Above all, it has affirmed the lifesaving role that our greenspaces play in our individual and collective lives, and how grateful our supporters are for the work they help make possible. We have all adapted to this new uncertain world in many ways by recognizing the values that bind us together, and it gave our team the confidence to ask our donors for the support we needed. My vision for next year is for us to be able to have in-person gatherings with our donors once again, which we have very much missed. You can’t replace that personal touch, no matter how good technology is.