Maintaining Confidence and Stability Through Crisis with Jimmy Mellado


We’re in a raw, disruptive time where everyone’s wondering what’s next, but this isn’t the first time the world feels upside down, and it certainly won’t be the last. I interviewed the President and Chief Executive Officer of Compassion International, Santiago “Jimmy” Mellado, to discuss the greatness that can spring forth from crisis. Jimmy has been in ministry for over 27 years and needless to say, has overcome a number of earth-shifting changes. He’s experienced Y2K, 9/11, and the 2008 recession, and has come out of each challenge stronger due to intentional mindsets and decisions. In our conversation, Jimmy shared the wisdom he’s gained from the highs and lows that come from crisis.

How Nonprofit Innovation Can Be Accelerated By Crisis

Many people are experiencing the tremendous fear that can come from the possibility of losing your organization’s funding opportunities. When people can’t gather, conferences, fundraisers, and other non-profit events are shut down, leaving some wondering if they’ll make it to the next year. But what if, instead of being driven by fear in these times, we used them to prayerfully seek improvement.

When 9/11 hit, Jimmy was preparing for The Willow Creek Association’s Global Leadership Summit. Planes were grounded and travel was suddenly impossible - not an ideal situation for a global event. Knowing that skipping a year could result in a demolished vision moving forward, Jimmy and his team decided to travel to 84 cities and cast a vision for the potential of distributing the Global Leadership Summit via satellite. The rush of the tragedy ignited a new commitment to a distributed model of the event. It wasn’t the most feasible idea, asking hundreds of people to pay to sit at a virtual event, especially back in 2011 before video conferencing was more of a norm. But they found there was an eager audience for both local and distributed audiences. The Global Summit would not be where it is today without the weight of 9/11. 

Jimmy reminds us, “This is the case every time we go through a crisis. There will be some things that create unbelievable pain and disruption. But in that pain, if you lean into it, God could show you some things not only about himself but also about yourself. You’ll learn new ways of thinking that you didn’t invite into your life but could become the new normal.”

How Nonprofits Can Financially Prepare

Rest In The New Norm - In times of disruption, we often long for the days that will feel “normal” again. We seek comfort and ease, but God reminds us over and over that we shouldn’t expect easy and comfortable. When the 2008 recession hit, Jimmy recalls dying to the idea of normalcy. When he finally realized that the new norm might be an environment of chaos, instability, and unpredictability, he could finally find peace, knowing it was out of his hands. Struggling and fighting would not change this.

Financial Reserves Are Key - This downturn also changed how Compassion International ran financially. When hard times hit, having financial reserves became a necessity for survival because it buys you time, and time gives you the flexibility to continue your ministry without compromising your reach when times are harder. Reserves also give you the peace-of-mind to never have to worry about payroll. One of the worst feelings as a leader is wondering if you can pay your staff each week. If it weren’t for the recession, or seasons of a struggling economy in general, this lesson would often go unlearned.

When you’re in a place of financial security, you’re inviting the ability to learn in crisis rather than panicking to stay afloat. If you’re able to put a hard situation into God’s hands, He can work in you to help you come out stronger 

How to Prepare For The Uncertain

Start With Your Soul - When you don’t know how long a metaphorical winter will last, how, as a leader, do you prepare for your organization to stay afloat? It starts with your soul. Where are you centering your security? Jimmy advises that it’s imperative to determine the level of crisis you’re facing first, so you can properly plan for it, and then lay it in God’s hands. Once you can realistically understand what you’re facing, you can rest, knowing God is sovereign and convert any worried energy into productive planning. We have the ability to react as Jesus did in a boat in the middle of a storm. Though his disciples were plagued with fear and his circumstances were less than ideal, he was able to rest in God. That is our ultimate calling. With God’s peace, you can accept that your new reality may not look like you imagined but have confidence that he’ll not only lead you through the storm but help you prevail. Not only will this peace allow you headspace for God to enter and guide with wisdom, but your team will feel your peace and rest knowing their leader is led by God.

Prepare For The Worst - Another tip when preparing for a crisis, future or present, is to prepare for the worst. While this doesn’t mean falling into despair, it means responding with your resources for the worst-case scenario. This attitude ensures that if a crisis turns out to be long and challenging, you’re prepared. On the other hand, if the crisis is less severe than expected, you’ll feel relief and almost a sense of excess, knowing your time, money, and resources could have been lost. 

Plan In Community - This kind of preparation needs to be determined in unity. In uncertain times, it’s important to stay in constant communication as a leadership team to make sure everyone is on the same page. In an environment of so much change, people’s emotions and opinions can be easily swayed, so coming together to remind each other of your vision, purpose, and plan moving forward is critical. It also helps find a balance. Leadership teams hopefully have people on the optimistic, realistic, and pessimistic side of thinking. Balancing these three viewpoints of a tough situation can help you find reality through the complexities of emotion and fear. These group meetings are also a great grounds for collaborating on new ways to adjust to a crisis moving forward.

How Nonprofits Can Approach Donations In Crisis

The Doner Comes First - It’s critical to operate out of care for the donor rather than for their donation during a crisis. People can sense when your heart is after them or their resources, so it’s important to reach out and show them you care. This can be done through one-on-one communications with donors you have a relationship with through call, email, text, or any channel that works for your team. When you hear from people you care about that support your non-profit who are suffering in the midst of this pandemic, it shifts your focus completely to caring for them in that time. It must be a relationship. They support you throughout the year, and it might be your time to support them.

However, during a crisis, you do find a lot of people that want to give and be a part of solutions by giving. Let your conversation with people flow naturally and use emotional intelligence to understand the place they’re in before money ever comes up. People will often bring up giving if it’s on their mind.

Service Is Therapeutic - According to Dr. Henry Cloud, one of the most important things you can do for your own psychological, emotional, and spiritual health is to become others-centered and serve. So coming from a place of love for your donors will benefit not only your relationship with them but your own well-being overall. This gets the focus off of yourself and into looking for solutions for others. In fact, the old Greek word for “Work” is “Therapy.” Serving others is therapeutic. This should come out of a heart of helping them, but you will feel the positive side-effects.

Non-Profit Team Necessities Moving Forward

For a key leadership position, one of the key questions to ask is how they have handled the hardest situation they’ve ever faced and how it has impacted who they are today. Understanding how a person manages inevitable challenges is imperative to understanding how they will lead when facing challenges at your organization. The best lessons we learn don’t come from victories, they come from knockdowns, so seeing what people have faced in their deserts speaks volumes to their character.

At the end of the day, ministries were created for the good of others. The essence of that need doesn’t go away in a crisis. In fact, it’s more critical than ever. When a vision of a ministry is strong and compelling, they become a resource magnet. As a leader, make your vision clear. Spend time and energy creating a 10-second pitch that proves your worth. Organizational giving doesn’t come down to how tech-savvy you are or how new-age your organization is - it comes down to how clear you communicate your value to those around you.