I am amazed, in awe, and inspired by the way many nonprofit leaders – many of whom are women – are leading their organizations through the uncertainty brought on by COVID-19. So much so, that I’ve decided to do a special series about Nonprofit Executive Women who are living in the trenches, working to keep their nonprofit running, and doing critical work to continue to serve individuals and families during this crisis. I’m curious about their work and the people they’re serving, their biggest concerns, and how they are taking care of themselves and those around them. So I asked!
Natalie Sutton, Chapter Executive, Alzheimer’s Association, Greater Indiana Chapter
Natalie has spent her entire career working for national nonprofit health organizations, first in fundraising and later in leadership. She loves working with passionate people and working toward a common mission, while enjoying the variety, creativity, and problem-solving that comes with leading a nonprofit. She joined the Alzheimer’s Association Greater Indiana Chapter as Executive Director for the Greater Indiana Chapter in 2017, just a few months after her grandfather passed away from dementia. Watching her grandfather live with dementia and her grandmother care for him 24/7 led Natalie to learn more about the organization. As she did, she knew the structure and culture at the Alzheimer’s Association was going to be a good fit for her experience – she was right!
Q. Who are you serving and how are you serving them during this crisis?
A. We serve individuals affected by Alzheimer’s and dementia as well as their caregivers. More than 110,000 Hoosiers are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease, and 342,000 Hoosiers are providing unpaid care for someone with the disease. We focus on advancing research and public policy, as well as providing care and support services that include education, caregiver support groups, programs for people living with early-stage dementia, and a 24/7 Helpline.
Q. Have you added, changed, or deleted any services because of COVID-19?
A. For the first several days of working remotely, we focused more than we had previously on highlighting some of the services and tools that are available on demand, like our website (alz.org) and our 24/7 Helpline (800.272.3900). Then, we quickly began working with volunteers and community partners to transition services that have traditionally been offered face-to-face to a virtual format. Even our social engagement programs for people living in the early stages of the disease have continued in a new format – now a weekly newsletter with ideas for activities that people with the disease and their care partners can do at home.
Q. What are your biggest concerns right now?
A. First and foremost, we are concerned for the people we serve. Caregiver stress is high in normal times, but social isolation and the pandemic have increased caregiver stress and caused new and different challenges for dementia caregivers. Caregivers in the home may be unable to rely on some services or support from friends and family that they once had, while caregivers with loved ones in a long-term-care community are now unable to see their loved ones for an extended period of time. We are trying to stay a step ahead to adapt and work in new ways for those who need us.
Aside from this concern for our mission and for those affected by Alzheimer’s and dementia, we also need to ensure the financial health of our organization in the long run. Like many other industries, the nonprofit sector is and will be affected by the economic downturn. A large percentage of our fundraising is driven by community events that bring people together, and the inability to gather will have a negative impact. We are grateful that the Walk to End Alzheimer’s events in September and October will continue as planned, and we trust that communities will be eager to come together by then. Overall, the need for our work continues, but our funding sources will be negatively impacted. We are taking one step at a time and anticipate growing and changing through this time so that we can come out of the pandemic stronger and better able to serve our mission.
Q. How are you taking care of yourself, your staff, and your clients?
A. Our team is communicating frequently as we work in a remote environment, perhaps more than we did before. We use video for all of our meetings. We have continued a routine Monday huddle to kick off the week and keep everyone updated, and we added a Friday huddle to celebrate successes and talk about our families, hobbies, or weekend plans. As a team, we have also acknowledged the need to provide each other space for our individual needs, whether that be adjusting to new technology, parenting kids who are also at home, or meeting each other’s pets.
We extend this same grace, teamwork, and communication to our volunteers – some have needed space to step back from volunteering and address other priorities – while others have become more engaged. For constituents and donors, we have been making regular “care calls” just to check-in, let people know we are here, share updates on our resources, and ask for help spreading the word about our services. Making these phone calls or sending personal notes has been a meaningful and uplifting activity for all of us.
Q. What is your biggest need right now and how can people support your business?
A. Raise awareness of our services, which is one of our biggest challenges in normal times. We serve about 6,000 Hoosiers each year, but so many more people are affected and need to know about the Alzheimer’s Association. If you know a dementia caregiver, encourage them to call the Helpline (800.272.3900) and get connected with the Alzheimer’s Association’s free resources.
In addition, we would encourage those who are passionate about this mission to volunteer, advocate, form a team for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, plan a fundraiser for The Longest Day, or make a financial contribution. There are so many ways to get involved and make a difference. Growing the Alzheimer’s Association’s network of supporters is key to reaching and serving more people.
Q. What are you reading, watching, listening to, or doing to get through this?
A. I have been taking more outdoor walks. There is no substitute for the fresh air and friendly waves to neighbors. With work now constantly present in my home, I have also been trying to shut down to spend evenings with my family, followed by watching unrelated, mindless TV after the kids go to bed.