The time was now: A care center born in a time of crisis

We sat around the table, acutely aware that it was time to make a decision. There were abysmal market conditions still lingering from the Great Recession (although we didn’t have the name for it then), and we had to determine if we would take the risk.

The care center includes a grocery store, children’s clothing shop, dentist, automotive repair, and more.

We knew most people around us were still struggling financially, and we also knew that the visits to our food pantry had gone up 300 percent. The lines were extremely long, and it was painful to admit the amount of time that people were waiting to get food. It wasn’t just painful. It was heartbreaking.

The need was significant, and we knew we wanted to serve our community in a greater way. It was not the time for a fundraising campaign, though. Most people would say that it was not the time to dream new dreams, but we had been planning and brainstorming for a long time about building a new, more- robust Care Center in the Chicagoland area.

Most people would say that it was not the time to dream new dreams, but we had been planning and brainstorming for a long time.

The relationships were already established in our community. The groundwork had been laid. We knew the needs that we could potentially address, and now we had to decide if we would really launch a capital campaign at a time when everyone else was saying to cut back and stay lean. Would we jump in?

That was almost a decade ago, and our current economic headlines have brought those memories back for me. We did decide to move forward. We met with many people to share the vision of what we wanted to do. Some people said we were crazy, but many responded with abundant generosity. In the midst of that recession, we were able to fully fund the new facility. We raised $10 million before we even broke ground. We were able to expand that food pantry into a full Care Center that provides both immediate relief and long-term solutions.

Today, the center provides services like a full-choice grocery store, a children’s clothing resale shop, an automotive repair shop, a dental clinic, an optometry clinic, financial and legal services, and counseling for unplanned pregnancies. Today, in the midst of COVID-19, that Care Center is serving a seemingly nonstop stream of guests, albeit with revised services to protect both the guests and the volunteers. They are on the front lines in our community, already helping those who are most vulnerable in these economic times.

I know how much thought and prayer went into the decision of moving forward with that capital campaign, and I know how close we came to putting a pause on it. I’m so glad we didn’t. That part of my story has made me consider: how do we evaluate when to move forward with a donation or a significant gift in the midst of these difficult times?  

Here are four lessons that I gleaned from that time. They are mantras that I use with my clients today:

1. Don’t give in to a scarcity mindset

It is just like God to birth something beautiful out of a crisis. I want to pay attention to how God is leading and the ideas that he is prompting, even in times like this. God is not limited by an economic crisis, a recession, or a pandemic. He is still doing his good work and caring for his people, and I believe that he is still inspiring people with ideas that are ready to be funded and implemented. Our resources can be the game-changer for an idea that will serve the most vulnerable through this crisis and for decades to come.

2. Look for those who have been faithful in times of plenty

Scripture tells us that when people are faithful with little, they will be faithful with much. I believe that the reverse of that is also true. When I see an organization that has practiced good stewardship in times of abundance, I also know they can be counted on in times of crisis to be the ones who will most wisely steward gifts of generosity. I look for organizations who are already in the game, for organizations who did their homework before the crisis hit. I also look for organizations who watch their spending carefully even when resources are not a significant challenge.

3. Leverage the collaboration that can come through a crisis

Many times, the social sector and the non-profit world can, unfortunately, seem more competitive than collaborative with each other. This is understandable when organizations are each focused on their own mission and vision. When there is a crisis, however, there is an impetus for people to join together and to unify around a greater cause.

In the midst of the Great Recession, I saw a change in many organizations that were normally independent and focused on their own work. They were willing to come together to serve the whole community, and it made me see a unique window of opportunity in the midst of a crisis. These rough economic times can be leveraged for strategic collaboration.

These rough economic times can be leveraged for strategic collaboration.

4. Keep an eye on the long-term plan

It is necessary and helpful to give to emergency relief at some points during a crisis, but it is also important to consider when you want your contribution to go toward long-term solutions. If I am working with a client who wants to fund buildings, infrastructure, and new ministries, we want to be sure those will be needed long-term, even when the economy turns around. 

During that capital campaign that I led 10 years ago, the most common question I received was, “Are you sure these needs will still be here when the economy turns around?” If there is anything that is certain about our financial environment, it is that it will always be changing. It is vital to invest in ministries that can be sustainable over the long haul and able to weather the highs and lows of the economy.

I am so proud of the team that is running that Care Center today. They are loving each person that shows up, and they are living out the values of dignity and hope. I know how easily we could have walked away from that capital campaign, though. We could have said it was too risky or that there would be a better time. I thank God that he made it clear that it was time to jump in.

As I read the headlines today, I can’t help but wonder what dreams will be birthed out of this economic crisis. How will God use it for his purposes?  How will he use you?

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