October 2020 - Part 2
Leaders in the Field:
Profiles from the Pandemic

Celebrating Exceptional Leadership and
Codifying Lessons Learned
During Unprecedented Times
In alignment with our value of mutual support, Leaders in The Field: Profiles from the Pandemic is offered as a resource to share wisdom, experience and creative responses to an ever-changing nonprofit landscape rocked by COVID-19.

An extension of our monthly Leaders in the Field publication, the next three editions will feature some of the leadership frameworks used by members of the Fieldstone Leadership Network San Diego as they have led through these unprecedented days.
Effective leaders understand how to balance emotion with reason and make decisions that positively impact themselves, their teams, their clients and donors, and their organizations. Making good decisions in difficult situations is no small feat because these types of decisions involve change, uncertainty, anxiety, stress, and sometimes the unfavorable reactions of
Decisive leaders know when to move quickly and proceed with the available information, versus when to take more time and gather additional information. When leaders opt to pursue additional information or avenues, they must also know when to stop. While a large amount of data may be desirable in a perfect world, the data gathering process can utilize too much time, and the vast amount of data can also be paralyzing and take attention away from the big picture or key data points.

(Three Qualities to Take the Paralysis out of Decision Analysis by Larina Kase, PsyD, MBA, Pepperdine University)
Profiles in Decisive Leadership
Arnulfo Manriquez

“There's a lot of value to the term 'disaster preparedness'


In a crisis, it’s the CEO’s job to act quickly, to set expectations, and to unite and assure staff

ON THE FUTURE: Nonprofits have the opportunity now to reconstruct how they do business including experimenting with more flexible schedules, investing in technology and structuring programs

Learning Group Graduate
Simona Valanciute

“We routinely celebrate failures because they lead to better next steps”


My philosophy remains: hire incredible people, who will adapt to any challenge with optimism, creativity, and an eagerness to try new things”

ON THE FUTURE: “Even our oldest adults, the most change-adverse group of people in the their 90s have drastically changed their behaviors. Why can’t you?”

Learning Group Graduate
Don Wells

“It's essential for nonprofits to strengthen and measure the impact as the foundation for strengthening funding and their mission”


Don’s leadership ABCs for the new normal: Adapt, Be Proactive, and Communicate

ON THE FUTURE: He hopes the current challenges faced by nonprofits will be an impetus to inspire collaborative change 

Learning Group Graduate, Executive Coaching Program (Coach)
Continue reading for more on our featured leaders!
How do we provide more services with less funding? This was the question facing many nonprofits in March when COVID-19 forced state-wide lockdowns. Arnulfo Manriquez, the President and CEO of MAAC knew that despite the quixotic nature of this challenge he had to respond quickly, that “this was the time when our community would need us the most.” MAAC serves over 70,000 individuals in San Diego, providing a range of life-changing services from housing support and early education to substance abuse treatment and career training. To solve the immediate funding problem, Arnulfo made the decision to keep staff intact, even if it meant using the organization’s emergency reserves, while working to secure PPP funding through the CARES Act. With a fully funded staff, MAAC was able to repurpose staff to support its community—provide meals and manage food distribution through food banks, offer financial assistance, work with residents in affordable housing units who were unable to pay rent, and even offer remote and, eventually, in-person pre-school programs.

Reflecting on their early response, Arnulfo said “I’m actually very proud of the work my team has done” even as he acknowledges that getting started was not easy. Making quick decisions amidst conflicting priorities and insufficient information caused moments of tension with his leadership team. Arnulfo had to make it clear that his decisions, which sometimes lacked consensus, were not meant to be personal slights but were part of operating through uncertainty. He smoothed the tension by working to unite his staff around realigning priorities to meet the changing needs of the community.

As he guided his staff into new roles, Arnulfo was well supported by the Executive Vice President/ Chief Impact Officer and the Director of Learning and Evaluation who were busy analyzing the shifting organization and providing the training necessary for staff to lead in times of crisis. To complement its internal trainings, MAAC also found external resources to support its team, including THE EQUITY JOURNEY training provided by FLNSD. These efforts to provide learning and skill building opportunities have supported Arnulfo’s efforts to create cohesiveness throughout the organization. The renewed unity of his staff and their willingness to adapt gives Arnulfo hope for the future. He can now see this challenging time as an opportunity for nonprofits like MAAC to reconstruct how they do business to better serve both their employees and their communities.  
Senior citizens are one of the groups most impacted by the COVID-19 crisis—facing both serious health impacts from the virus and isolation from lost connections. As the President and CEO of San Diego Oasis, which works to enrich the lives of older adults through classes and engagement, Simona Valanciute could not hesitate to respond to protect her vulnerable clients. She didn’t let the challenge of seniors’ reluctance to going virtual or, in some cases, the lack of devices prevent her from taking swift action to move her organization to an online format. She recognized that the mission of Oasis to prevent loneliness and foster engagement was more vital than ever and that waiting for clear guidance would cause more damage than pivoting quickly. “We simply did not take a single day for planning” says Simona of their rapid response, “we trained on Sunday and relaunched in virtual space on Monday.”

That fast action has made San Diego Oasis a “national leader” in their industry. Within two months they had produced 400 virtual programs, which they initially offered for free to help entice seniors to embrace the new technology needed for participation. They now have a huge range of on-line programs including exercise, arts, technology, money management, language, history, writing, and even virtual travel. They have also revamped their popular intergenerational tutoring program to be on Zoom so that seniors can stay connected while supporting young people who need academic assistance. All of this has been made possible by a staff that offers constant tech support and has persevered to find solutions to connect even their most change-adverse clients.

Simona is immensely proud of the accomplishments of her staff and her organization in adapting to these challenging times. She credits their current success to the implementation skills and commitment of her team coupled with her decisiveness and courage to embrace potential failure. As a leader, Simona has proven she is not afraid to take the first steps when knowing that the road ahead will be a learning experience. “It’s a constant reiteration of learning and failing, learning and failing, and because we do this all day long, it’s a natural skill by now, which served us well this time.”
Don Wells is the Chief Empowerment Officer at Just in Time for Foster Youth (JIT), an organization that provides a caring community and critical resources for transition-age foster youth to help them achieve self-sufficiency and well-being. He took on the new title (from Executive Director) this summer to better emphasize his role in empowering JIT staff and the youth who are the focus of the JIT community. But empowering the young people JIT serves became much harder in March when COVID-19 brought disruption and uncertainty into their lives. One of Don’s chief challenges was how to make sure that JIT’s participants didn’t feel disconnected or left behind. As he says, “a sense of belonging and connection is at the heart of what we do and what our youth rely on.” Don made the decision to keep JIT open with a skeleton crew of essential workers even as the rest of the county locked down. It was clear that, amidst all the other instability they faced, JIT participants still needed a place to go for emergency food, or a shower, or reliable support. The JIT team connected with participants all over San Diego to ensure they knew there weren’t alone. They discovered that many JIT participants were reluctant to visit the office with all of the health and safety restrictions, or to ask for help, or feared they were becoming a burden on the organization. For participants who felt they “shouldn’t need help anymore,” JIT sent out $50 “resilience checks.” By pro-actively encouraging and engaging their young people, Don and his team helped them to feel connected and cared for, but not a failure, during a difficult time.

Figuring out how to serve their participants was only part of the challenge the JIT team faced this spring. Their annual fundraiser was scheduled for March 14th, two days after the Governor ordered a state of emergency limiting gatherings. When the announcement was made, Don quickly gathered his team to re-design their fundraiser to be an on-line event. Despite the limited turn-around time, the fundraiser was a success, netting slightly more than the projected amount for their planned in-person experience.

JIT was able to adapt quickly to the challenges of the pandemic by following Don’s “ABCs of the new normal.” A is for “Adapting” or pivoting quickly to changing demands; B is for “Be Proactive”, staying ahead of the curve and innovating for probable futures; and C is for “Communicating”, which is essential for a team responding effectively to a crisis. Don recognizes that the financial stability JIT built over time gave him the opportunity to respond rapidly to the early challenges of the pandemic rather than reacting to events. He urges other leaders to “reinforce their capacity to deal with the unknown” by making the necessary investments in their organization that will ultimately make services available for the long-term.
Thank You to our Network Members...
Our thanks to each of our profiled leaders for taking the time during stress-filled days to share their experiences in hopes of supporting others as they lead. 

Next Installment: Relational Leaders
Interviews were conducted by our summer intern, Nathan Burns. We are grateful for his work on this project. 

Interviews were conducted in July 2020 and reflect learnings and activities through that time.