Hartford Foundation for Public Giving President Talks Inspiration, Innovation, and Introspection During the COVID-19 Crisis
Hartford Foundation for Public Giving President and CEO Jay Williams spoke with MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price about how the Foundation responds to and meets the community’s needs during challenging times.
NAN PRICE: As the head of your organization, how do you remain positive throughout this kind of crisis?
JAY WILLIAMS: That’s a great question. We have found inspiration as an organization in a variety of places. I have found inspiration starting with our employees and how nimble, responsive, and conscientious they have been. That’s not to say they aren’t like that all the time, because they are. However, in this crisis, the level of innovation and creativity we’ve tapped into has been awe-inspiring.
I’ll add to that, the responses we’ve been getting from the organizations we fund on a regular basis in good times and bad have also been inspiring. It’s been more than just: Thank you for providing us a grant. The responses have been about how agile and flexible the Foundation has been. A process that used to be about 20 questions is now not 10 questions, but three or four questions. It’s about getting the resources out to the places that are in most dire need. That’s been a source of inspiration throughout this process.
NAN: How is the Foundation working to respond to the community’s needs in this challenging time?
JAY: We’re collaborating in ways that try to take a diverse group of organizations and individuals, some of whom we’ve had longstanding relationships with and some that are relatively new, and really asking them to tap into their networks and share with us to inform our grant-making decisions and resource allocation.
This is exceptionally important, because there are relationships we didn’t necessarily have in the community. Maybe we knew about those organizations and individuals, and perhaps they knew of us but, for any number of reasons, we just hadn’t come together in any formal way. Here is an opportunity to establish new relationships that enable us to go further and deeper into the community to identify needs and how we might respond to them.
NAN: In what other ways have you been able take a different view of the work you’re doing?
JAY: We’re looking at things more introspectively. We were already on an evolution to become a more modern, responsive, and impactful organization, and we had achieved some milestones. This crisis has caused us to resist the urge of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. Because we want to be perfect—to the extent that you can be—it’s an ever-elusive goal. But we would often overanalyze or rethink an approach so thoroughly that it inhibited some of the necessary creativity that goes along with trying to address very significant issues. So, it’s been refreshing to not overanalyze things to maintain the fiduciary responsibility we have, but to respond to acute needs in a way that isn’t perfect but is effective and impactful.
NAN: What other lessons has the Foundation learned from this experience?
JAY: One thing we’ve learned is that when this crisis ends—and it will end—we can utilize some of the new approaches we’ve developed on an ongoing basis during our normal course of business.
We’ve also learned to not allow the fear of going against the grain, the safety of being rigid and always having a routine to keep us from trying something new and different. And, if it doesn’t work, saying let’s go back and tweak it until it does or let’s learn from that failure and move onto something else.
I think that is never more important than in times like these. There is absolutely a need for process and routine and checks and balances, but we can become so ensconced in those things that it inhibits the creativity and innovation that is also equally important when we’re dealing with a crisis that has engulfed this entire community.
At the end of the day, everything we do is for us to be able to better serve our community through the nonprofits and the partnerships we have. I never want that mission to be lost. We only exist because people continue to be philanthropic, even in these most difficult times. Our donors haven’t said: We’ve got to look inward and protect what we have. Instead, our donors have said: We’ve been fortunate that we still want to give and, in many instances, give more during this time than they might give during more traditional times.