Fund Texas Choice is proud and excited to have the opportunity to hire our first leadership staff. While we’ve been working toward the goal of transforming our staffing structure to better meet the needs of the organization we’ve grown into, this year’s events have especially brought home how critical it is that we think intentionally about sustainability in our work. Our client volume has nearly doubled. Due to a number of factors exacerbated by COVID-19 (unemployment, loss of housing and childcare, etc.), people need more support than ever while seeking abortion care. Abortion restrictions in Texas already keep access out of reach for thousands of people, but there is now a greater element of risk for the communities we serve since not only are they forced to travel to obtain an abortion, they’re having to do so during a pandemic. This is the time to invest in our staffing structure with time, money, intentionality, and thoughtful supports.
Since our beginnings five years ago, we’ve solidified our stated values as the lens by which our organization makes important decisions. And in this moment, there can be no more critical decision that our board makes than to thoughtfully set Fund Texas Choice up for the Executive Directors who will helm the leveling up of this organization at this stage in our history. With these values in mind, we’re dividing up the duties of what might typically be asked of one person in an Executive Director role into two more specialized roles for two people who want to break new ground in co-leading Fund Texas Choice’s evolution.
Executive Directors have a difficult job. They’re often expected to be experts in many areas, and are held to standards by the community that can feel impossible. The burn out rate is high, and higher still for People of Color. A leading factor in this burnout is not just the potentially overwhelming duties of the position, but a lack of work/life balance that results from the burden of holding so many responsibilities.
And Texas is big. The scale and diversity of this state means it’s harder to find one person who can understand the full scope of the work we need to do and build it for the myriad of people who experience barriers to abortion access. We’re opening our leadership positions as remote positions, and asking two people to work with each other in daily leadership because it allows for the possibility of leaders with deep roots in different areas of the state, both geographically and culturally. It allows for people with different experiences to bring the very best of their knowledge and creativity to the difficult, ever-changing landscape of Texas abortion access.
As we best build our organization with the ingenuity and innovation this work demands from us, we won’t ignore that it’s statistically more likely that People of Color, people in rural areas, LGBTQIA people, transgender and gender nonbinary people, disabled people, and other people who’ve been marginalized in our society face often layered and intersecting barriers to structural power. In other words, people with the most insight into the obstacles faced by our clients may not have had the same opportunities to build the formal, documented experience in all areas demanded of a typical Executive Director. Requiring a person to meet the extensive experience in all areas of leadership that we need right now immediately shrinks the applicant pool, shutting out many candidates who might have been ideal to steer FTC towards the future. In addition, knowing that people naturally gravitate towards areas of work that excite and interest them, it may not be realistic or compassionate for Fund Texas Choice to ask candidates to be an expert in all areas of leadership. And it may not be in our best interest to ask candidates to proclaim they do hold that broad expertise.
But expertise is what we need right now.
In redefining our expectations, we’re hoping to broaden the candidate field with the more likely possibility that our candidates have laser sharpened their expertise in more tailored areas, and can contribute more fully in collaboration with each other than having all the answers on their own.
As this new leadership builds and explores new models and structures for what will feel at times like a new Fund Texas Choice, we know our new leaders will face difficult days. We’re entrusting those we hire with the responsibility and autonomy to try things and refine them as they learn lessons about how Fund Texas Choice should evolve. These leaders will be expected to support our amazing program and administrative staff, report to the board and community, approve spending and programmatic ideas, be present in the communities where systemic injustices are named and tackled, shepherd grants and funder conversations, and more. And they’ll be doing it as the first paid people in their positions. Many organizations are in the process of transitioning into a shared Executive Director model; we’re building it in from the beginning of our staffed leadership.
The need for time to dig into research and ideation, the support of another leader to plan and problem solve with, is something that’s non-negotiable right now. In interrogating the power structures that can lead non-profit organizations away from their values, we’re building a path for daily checks and balances of co-leaders to hold each other accountable to our clients and our community. We don’t expect a co-leadership model to be seamless, and we know that it will take time to build trust and rapport with each other to generate the spark and momentum needed to carry FTC forward. While we’re committed to hiring co-EDs who look to collaboration with excitement and a generative, generous spirit, we’re clear-eyed about giving our leaders space to breathe and grow roots with our organization and each other.
We’re hiring EDs for the long haul. We’re committed to bringing on leaders with a period of trust and support to ensure they have the time and resources needed to learn the current depths of FTC, build rapport with each other and our stakeholders, and implement the kinds of changes they see as necessary for our growth, without the unfair expectations that disproportionately harm the people most needed in these positions. FTC may look different at the end of this year, but it will be just the beginning in building the organization that we want to carry us into the next five years and beyond. We don’t want to add to an industry-wide issue where one person is expected to burn themselves out in service of an organization that is ripe for evolution. We don’t want the isolation and impossible workload. And we don’t want to hire people whose expertise we value only to have them give their all, give too much of themselves, and then leave or lose their expectation of FTC showing up with their values first.
Learn more about the struggles of a lone Executive Director, and the value of co-Executive Director leadership models:
The Executive Director Model is Impossible, Ananda Valenzuela
Why more and more executive directors of color are leaving their positions, and what we need to do about it, Vu Le
Leaders of Color Speak Out, Nicole Wallace
Five Insights from Directors Sharing Power, CompassPoint NonProfit Services
Sharing the Hard Decisions: How Co-Leaders Can Do More Together, Frances Kunreuther
Is a Shared Leadership Model Right for Your Nonprofit?, Joanne Fritz
Doing More with More: Putting Shared Leadership in Practice, Michael Allison, Susan Misra and Elissa Perry
Nonprofit Leadership: Sharing the Load, Kevin Murray
Sharing Leadership (Podcast), Irresistible
We’re indebted to the abortion funds in our network that have modeled co-leadership and led the way forward for us with co-EDs, currently or in the past.