Serving on Exhale’s board provides a platform for each of us to develop and engage our strengths as we never imagined. Our members are all about midway through our second, three-year terms on the board, and in that time we’ve seen the organization mature from a local SF-Bay Area talkline service, to a national talkline whose volunteer and staff leaders set the tone for a new pro-voice dialogue on post-abortion wellness for women and their loved ones.
Over the years, as a board, we’ve matured too.
We’ve moved from a hands-on, project assisting focused board to a fiscal, legal, advisory, “ambassadoring”, and fundraising focused one. While Exhale has experienced typical non-profit challenges in our first decade, the movement toward being a big picture, opportunity-leveraging board has been a conscious and step-by-step process. We have dedicated time, organizational dollars, and individual resources to learning more about our individual and collective strengths – what we can bring to the table from our past and present professional experiences, as well as what we want to dream up and do differently. We’ve stretched ourselves to part ways with the pervasive scarcity in the nonprofit sector and created innovative practices to build and reward leadership throughout Exhale.
Three years ago, Aspen shared her vision for sustainable executive leadership with us, and her challenges in aligning that vision with the organization’s policies and practices. After much discussion and discernment about how we could be voices for a fully aligned and leader-full organization, we granted Aspen a 3-month paid sabbatical that paved the way for Exhale’s exponential growth and national exposure over the next few years. This alignment process translated into recognition of Exhale’s excellence in nonprofit leadership, credibility and expertise, and trustworthiness as allies and movement-building resources in the larger reproductive justice arena. It also meant that the board joined Exhale’s staff in dedicating time and resources to finding, honing, and practicing our strengths as the organization’s demands shifted to those of a maturing agency.
And now it’s getting really interesting. We’re facing significant losses in our foundation funding. The old habits and inherited tales that we all carry from past jobs and leadership roles beckon us to recommend slashing salaries and benefits in an attempt to realign our budget with realistic income projections. But we refuse to work from scarcity. We know in our bones what it’s like to thrive.
We chose to lead through tough times by upholding Exhale’s values in our daily leadership practices:
- We invest in our enormously talented, nimble, and productive human resources – both staff and volunteers.
- We support our entire team with transparent information about the organization’s finances and other changes, as well as with regular opportunities to connect across board-staff-volunteer gatherings and calls.
- We invite everyone to be at the table, flexing our strengths and sharing leadership as we develop responses to our current challenges, together.
- We trim the budget and retain the “sweet spot” of providing the best talkline services possible with our modest resources.
- We seek “kindred spirits” in each individual and institutional donor who shares Exhale’s vision of promoting post-abortion wellbeing.
- We keep our eyes on the prize; navigate the unpredictable weather patterns we experience, and recognize that rainbows often appear in the unlikely juxtaposition of rainfall and sunshine.
We’re fortunate to be in the midst of this challenging fiscal climate having experienced the organizational lessons we’ve learned over the past decade. As every non-profit has its own history, the present is part of the fabric that will connect our past with our future. And while we may not yet know how these current challenges will impact Exhale over time, our leadership charge is to seize this uncertainty as opportunity to lead, evolve and learn. And in the end, we’ll have our unique story to tell. After all, that’s what Exhale stands for.
Jennifer Rudy and sons