A woman working on a computer looking relaxed

3 Ways to Be More Adaptable in a Changing Nonprofit Landscape

In the inaugural edition of Moving Forward, our brand-new newsletter for nonprofit professionals, Michelle Nunn, President and CEO of CARE USA, notes that change is constant in the nonprofit world, making adaptability a critical skill. “Making sure we are flexible and open-minded,” she explains, “will help us to better respond to the challenges of tomorrow on the frontlines, led by the communities we serve.”

Being adaptable isn’t just about dealing with changing and challenging circumstances—it’s about evolving and growing as a result of them. That’s not to say these situations can’t be stressful and uncomfortable. But by reframing how you look at them, you can retrain your body and mind to be more adaptable when they occur. 

Here are three strategies you can adopt to be more open, flexible, and ultimately better prepared to respond when the ground shifts beneath your feet.

1. Understand your relationship with stress—and how to direct it

Stress doesn’t exist within a bubble. When circumstances change, the stress you feel isn’t just the result of the new situation—it’s the product of all the demands on your plate, your capacity to handle them, and how you perceive the balance between the two. The unfamiliar circumstances have likely created additional demands, throwing the ratio off and triggering a stress reaction that makes it harder to adapt to the change. 

When this happens, make a conscious effort to pause and review the situation. The stress reaction is natural—it’s your body’s way of trying to help you respond rapidly to challenging situations—but if it persists, it will hurt both your ability to adapt and your overall well-being. By giving yourself the space to breathe and assess each stressful situation through an analytic lens, you’ll find it easier to pinpoint specific actions that will help you direct your stress effectively to navigate the situation.

2. Treat resting like an organizational priority 

When you’re busy and things are changing fast, your first instinct might be to power through periods of tiredness, burnout, and even sickness. But as the saying goes, you have to care for yourself before you care for others. If you deprioritize your own physical, mental, and emotional well-being, even in the name of vital work for the communities you serve, your personal productivity and performance—and the health of your organization as a whole—will suffer in the long run.

Taking breaks, getting enough high-quality sleep, and eating at regular intervals are all activities that should be treated like the organizational priorities they are—because if you don’t do them, you’ll struggle to respond quickly and appropriately in challenging new circumstances. Think of resting and recharging as skills you need to master to bring your best self to work and practice them every day, both individually and within your wider team.

3. Spread positivity at every opportunity

Nonprofit work is all about doing good in the world. But depending on your mission, you may be surrounded by upsetting stories every day. It can be emotionally exhausting, no matter how compassionate you are. That’s why it’s so important for every member of a nonprofit team to recognize the role they play in bringing positive energy into shared spaces (even virtual ones). 

You’re allowed to feel stressed, upset, and anxious. But by committing to spreading kindness, gratitude, and love whenever you have the energy, you can uplift others on the team when they’re feeling down—and feel confident that they’ll play the same role for you. In doing so, you’ll keep the energy in your team positive, making it easier for everyone to see the possibilities for growth when difficult circumstances arise. 

More adaptable, more resilient, more prepared

Nonprofit work is rarely the same from one week to the next. New situations and challenges are always arising, and that can be both motivating and nerve-wracking. By managing stress effectively, prioritizing self-care, and focusing on the positives in every situation, you can rapidly pivot when circumstances change—and ensure your organization is equipped to handle anything. 

For more insights into how the nonprofit landscape is shifting, read Michelle Nunn’s interview in Moving Forward. Be sure to share your thoughts and subscribe! 

This post was inspired by the LinkedIn Learning Blog article “3 Ways to Be More Adaptable During Difficult Times,” authored by Heidi Hanna.

Moving Forward, a newsletter for nonprofit professionals