Nonprofit Leadership and Innovation

Guest Correspondence


Leadership and innovation. Two words that can be overused and watered down in the nonprofit sector. But the massive challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic have produced authentic, inspiring displays of both by our region’s nonprofit organizations. They deserve to be held up as examples worthy of following and of our gratitude.

Caring Decisively

Boys and Girls Clubs of Sarasota County and SKY Family YMCA have remained on the front lines of our region’s response to COVID-19. Both agencies quickly innovated in the face of dire community need, providing safe childcare and meeting other essential needs for vulnerable families.

Boys and Girls Clubs CEO Bill Sadlo described his organization’s “extremely difficult” decision to reduce the number of children it could serve in its summer program in order to ensure that both children and staff remained safe and that care and enrichment was available to those who would benefit most—Title I students and children of first responders. Difficult decisions are the ones leaders must make, and hundreds of families are better off because Bill understands that.

Rising to the Challenge

All Faiths Food Bank has ramped up its food-distribution operations exponentially to meet ever-growing food insecurity in our region. It did so even as the pandemic hamstrung its ability to utilize three things it traditionally relied on—legions of volunteers, community-based food donations, and tried-and-true distribution models. By innovating quickly to meet increased need while mitigating increased risks, All Faiths reminded us why it’s the trusted hub of our community’s hunger-relief system.  

A key Food Bank partner, Meals on Wheels of Sarasota vastly increased its own output. MOW Sarasota kept just about all of its volunteers in action, with new safety protocols for both drivers’ and clients’ benefit. It increased delivery days and hours to meet growing need and expanded its service beyond warm meals to a range of other necessities. If a family needs diapers, for example, a note left on their door in the morning for a “first shift” volunteer to see results in a diaper delivery that afternoon by a second shift driver. The logistical innovations of these nonprofit agencies are impressive.

Evolving and Adapting

Others have flexed creativity while staying mission-focused to meet wholly new needs of those they serve. UnidosNow has experienced massive demand for help from families who had never sought social services before. To ensure culturally competent case management for Spanish-speaking families with no experience navigating the social-service system, UnidosNow added a case manager, who has become a trusted lifeline for many members of our Hispanic/Latino community.

Women’s Resource Center also adapted quickly but thoughtfully, transitioning early to remote programming for those it already served and the influx of new calls it correctly anticipated. But CEO Ashley Brown also saw an opportunity to expand WRC’s services through virtual technology, exploring new ways to connect with people who could never attend in person. A comment from an existing client upon learning of the virtual expansion confirmed Brown’s hunch: “I hope you keep this up, because sometimes I could not drive from North Port to Venice because I did not have gas or money for gas. You already do an amazing job for the community, and your help has been invaluable. With technology you can reach even more people in need!”

Leading Creatively

Our region’s arts organizations have been slammed as hard as any by this crisis. But many have refused to take it sitting down. While several deserve applause for their COVID-19 responses, I’ll spotlight the Sarasota Orchestra and Sarasota Opera. The Orchestra and Opera were among the first to view the pandemic as the existential threat it is, choosing proaction over reaction. Leaders Joe McKenna and Richard Russell and their respective back-office administrations showed creativity to rival that of the talented artists they support. In short order, each packaged unique and striking virtual performances that set the bar for others. It’s creative vision and skilled execution like that that inspired our Board at Gulf Coast to double down on our investments in the arts this year.

In the months ahead, our nonprofit partners will need to show continued creativity and leadership to sustain their operations and keep meeting their vital missions. Our community will increasingly rely on their programs and services for health, safety, and mental and spiritual well-being. If leaders like those I’ve mentioned inspire you too, please do what you can to support their work. They need us, because we need them.

Mark Pritchett is president and CEO of the Gulf Coast Community Foundation.

Photo courtesy Boys and Girls Club of Sarasota County.

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