Leadership in Social Change Stosh Colter

Stosh Cotler on the Jewish Community’s Role in Progressive Social Change in the US

About This Episode

In this time of heightened social activism, Stosh Cotler sees tremendous opportunity and need for Bend the Arc, the National leading Jewish voice dedicated to mobilizing Jewish Americans to advocate for the nation’s most vulnerable. In this episode, Stosh talks about impactful leadership, current day Jewish identity and social movements.

About Stosh Cotler

Stosh Cotler is the Chief Executive Officer of Bend the Arc: Jewish Action. With 30 years of experience as an organizer, trainer and leader within movements for justice and equity, Stosh is helping to renew and expand the Jewish community’s role in progressive social change within the United States. In 2015, the Center for American Progress named Stosh as one of the “15 progressive faith leaders to watch” and in 2017 Stosh was named an Auburn Senior Fellow.  Previously, the Jewish newspaper The Forward named Stosh one of its 14 Jewish Women To Watch in 2014 and placed her on its Forward 50 list of American Jews who have had the most impact on the national conversation.

In her words…

“In this moment when immigrants, undocumented folks, migrants, and asylum seekers are being overly criminalized and when racism continues to be so chronic, toxic, unresolved, and unaddressed at the deepest levels- American Jews are, I believe, really feeling and seeing how this set of injustices, while not new in many ways, is hitting a different kind of tipping point with this particular president and administration that doesn’t want to necessarily uphold just basic liberal democracy. But I also think with the rise of antisemitism, seeing the ways in which Jews as well are part of this fabric where we need to come together with others and form even deeper bonds, stronger coalitions and link our work in ways- that’s at scale that we haven’t seen before.” “Part of what I think is attractive to funders are leaders who are really clear that they are moving an agenda that is so forward thinking, that is so imaginative, that we don’t see the possibilities in this current moment- but those possibilities exist in a time frame that we need to be putting ourselves in. The vision of some leaders is just really dynamic and important. How, as leaders, can we really do our own practice of visioning? How are we carving out the time in our day or week or month to really be thinking about the vision of our organization, and also our field or our movement? What are the things that we can do that are not yet possible?” “I would say for any of the organizations whose leadership- whether it’s the senior leadership team or the boards of those organizations that don’t see the value in having women and/or people of color or other minoritized groups of people in leadership roles- I think part of the work is to help that set of gatekeepers and decision makers understand why it’s so critical to have a shift in who is actually leading our organizations. Why that shift in leadership is both an equity issue but also really a strategic issue for us to be effective and to win as progressives.” “Leadership, especially in this moment, is so much about really rooting and anchoring to what my particular unique contribution is. My job is to find what my special piece of this can be and then really leaning into that as much as I possibly can.”

Questions Answered on this Episode

Tell me about the work that you are doing to expand the Jewish community’s role in progressive social change. Why is that a priority now? Are there specific issues that full under that umbrella? You’ve been in the sector for over three decades. Do you think the role of a leader has changed and what does that look like in your leadership? There are lots of reports and data that speak to the need for more women and people of color in the nonprofit sector. What are you thoughts on this? One of the things I don’t think we talk about enough is intergenerational leadership. How do we take advantage of the wisdom of some of our older leaders, while still creating opportunities for young leaders. In your work to expand the role of the Jewish community, has this come up and if so, how do you manage it? How do you define your leadership style? In this climate of increased activism, are there parts of your leadership skillset that you find yourself relying on more heavily? Ana Oliveira, CEO of New York Women’s Foundation, said to me, “money follows leadership.” Can you share any tips or advice for how people can put this perspective into practice, based on your success?

Transcript

Vanessa Wakeman:  Welcome to the Social Change Diaries, the show that looks behind the curtain at everything you want to know about the social justice and nonprofit landscape. I’m your host, Vanessa Wakeman.

Vanessa Wakeman:  Thank you for tuning in to the Social Change Diaries. I am your host Vanessa Wakeman. Today I am interviewing Stosh Cotler. She is the Chief Executive Officer of Bend the Arc: Jewish Action and Bend the Arc. I’m really excited to chat with Stosh because she is working to renew and expand the Jewish community’s role and progressive social change within the United States. This season we’re talking about leadership and I just think that that type of visionary leadership is what is required for us to really affect change and to sort of accelerate progress on so many of the issues that we are facing as a country. 

Vanessa Wakeman:  So Stosh is a professional with more than 30 years of experience as an organizer, trainer and leader within movements for justice and equity. In 2015, the Center for American Progress named Stosh as one of the 15 progressive faith leaders to watch and in 2017, she was proud to become an Auburn senior fellow. Previously the Jewish newspaper, The Forward, named Stosh one of its 14 Jewish women to watch in 2014 and placed her on its forward 50 list of American Jews who have had the most impact on the nation’s conversation. 

Vanessa Wakeman:  In her years of leadership at Bend the Arc, she has personally overseen some of the organization’s most successful national growth strategies and so I am going to have a conversation with her to get her insights about what is happening and what she’s doing to inspire, and encourage, and support those people who are interested in getting involved and becoming active in some of the social causes we are looking at today. 

Vanessa Wakeman:  All right folks. So we are in the early stages of season three and I promised you that we were going to have a great group of leaders on and today is actually an occasion to meet one of those leaders. I am joined today by Stosh Cotler from Bend the Arc. Stosh, thank you so much for joining me.

Stosh Cotler:  Thank you so much for having me and having Bend the Arc be part of this experience.

Vanessa Wakeman:  Yes, yes, yes. I think the topic of leadership just in general is interesting. It’s such a broad topic. When I shared with my team, it was one of the topics that I wanted to cover, everyone kept saying there’s so many different ways to go with that. I said, “Exactly,” and I do think that leadership is changing and there is a lot happening. I know that the vision that you have for your organization is working to expand the Jewish community’s role in progressive social change, and to me that is definitely characteristic of a leader with some vision. Tell me a little bit about that.

Stosh Cotler:  Well, in terms of leadership overall and leadership in this moment in building an effective and strategic and collaborative movement for justice in this country, I would say that first absolutely Bend the Arc is committed to ensuring that American Jews are part of the fabric of the progressive infrastructure. And historically American Jews have always been part of any significant social change struggle since our community has been in this country in any significant numbers, whether it was part of a labor movement, or a part of abolition movement, or part of women’s rights, et cetera. So part of our commitment now is just to make sure that we are doing everything we can to ensure that that tradition and lineage continues on and I’m happy to talk about what we’re doing to support leaders and their development in those [inaudible 00:04:20] spaces. Is that what you were trying to get at?

Vanessa Wakeman:  Yes and actually I would love to know about that be I think that’s important if we’re trying to get more people involved and if they’re working through their individual activism or through community based organizations, then I think it is important that we are offering support to leaders. So tell me a little bit about what you folks are doing with leaders.

Stosh Cotler:  Part of the work that Bend the Arc is doing is training the next generation of Jewish leaders and one of the things that we know is that American Jews are very, very active in our existing social justice movements right now. And often American Jews are working in our social justice movements but they’re not working with their Jewish identity front and center. So if we were to take a look at most any movement space, we would find, I could guarantee a disproportionate number of Jews in that space compared to our actual population. 

Stosh Cotler:  So American Jews are less than 2% of the population in the United States and even in places, cities and towns where the Jewish population is really tiny, we often see Jews showing up in progressive spaces. So one part of the work that we’re doing is trying to connect with those Jews who are in progressive spaces and to help those Jews understand how their commitments to activism and transforming our country and society are actually rooted in a Jewish value system and a Jewish tradition. And some of those Jews may or may not have had any connection with Jewish wisdom or Jewish life whatsoever. 

Stosh Cotler:  I mean, that was certainly my story and I had been doing social justice work for 10 years before I had any connection with my own Jewish identity and any information about how my Jewish lineage could bolster, and reinforced, and actually deepen my effectiveness and the meaning I got from doing social justice work. So a part of what we’re doing is making that connection for folks already in the movement spaces and we’re also working with Jews who might not yet be active in movement spaces and helping to facilitate their own ability to see how translating Jewish ethics and Jewish practice into public life is an expression of the Jewish values they hold dear, and helping them build the skills and capacities to be effective partners, and collaborators, and co-conspirators in our movement spaces. And we have a couple of different leadership programs that we do that in.

Vanessa Wakeman:  So Stosh, why is that a priority now? Does it feel like there’s a greater urgency right now based on the political climate? Is there something that’s driving like, oh, this is important in this moment or is this sort of a continuation of previous sort of mandate or goals for the organization just about in engagement and activism overall?

Stosh Cotler:  Yeah. Well leadership development for us is an evergreen aspect of what we do and how we do our work and an expression of what we value. And I would say that this particular moment in time, this era of Trumpism, and this Trump administration and its enablers really are bringing to the surface the needs for all communities who are targeted by the white nationalism being horrifically displayed by this administration. All of us who are targets of white nationalism have something at stake, and so much to lose, and want to be and must be acting in solidarity with other communities who are also being targeted by white nationalism.

Stosh Cotler:  So in this moment when immigrants and undocumented folks, and migrants, and asylum seekers are being overly criminalized and when racism continues to be so chronic, and toxic, and unresolved, and unaddressed at the deepest levels and when anti Muslim bigotry is on the rise as well, American Jews are, I believe, really feeling and seeing how this set of injustices, while not new in many ways, is we’re hitting a different kind of tipping point with this particular president and administration that doesn’t want to necessarily uphold just basic liberal democracy. But also I think with the rise of antisemitism, seeing the ways in which Jews as well are part of this fabric where we need to come together with others and form even deeper bonds, stronger coalitions and link our work in ways and it’s at scale that we haven’t seen before.

Vanessa Wakeman:  So it’s like in addition to just developing and supporting the leaders, there’s also a sense of collaboration and partnership. Which I think is really vital in social change and social justice. Have there been any surprises or sort of good things that have come out of those sort of like racial cross ethnic or cross cause partnerships that you didn’t envision happening but you’re seeing maybe more alignment with other groups? Have there been any sort of things worth mentioning in that regard?

Stosh Cotler:  Yeah. I mean, I feel like this moment that has been so horrific has also created conditions that have brought folks together at a level of depth and generosity that I haven’t seen since I’ve been doing work which is now 30 plus years. So as an example, I can say that there are a number of organizations and leaders who have been showing up meetings, sometimes monthly, to talk about how together we can create a shared framework and a shared strategic direction for our efforts that are going to be unique and are going to lean into our own organizations particular mandate and where we have comparative advantage. 

Stosh Cotler:   But also give us a way together to be coming to each other’s aid and support, and also to begin to weave ourselves together in a way that not only creates a much stronger united front but gives us then practice so that as we’re being able to test and articulate and names the vision that we’re actually all fighting for. We’re doing that work in a really different way and I think that a lot of the work around immigration is a place where I’m seeing those cross movement, cross leader relationships come out in really beautiful and new ways. And I’m happy to give you some examples of some of those things that I’ve seen, but it feels like it’s happening in so many different areas and on so many different issues. That I think that there’s a lot of goodness that is happening in the midst of a really fearful and dangerous time.

Vanessa Wakeman:  So Stosh, one of my concerns, I guess it was last year, right after the inauguration, I felt like the social justice space was really crowded, which is … The activism space, excuse me, was really crowded which is never a bad thing, but I, in full transparency, I certainly had my doubts about … I almost felt like it was sexy to be an activist now. And, “Oh, I’ve got my hat. I participated in the march or you know, I’m donating,” and then sort of that drop off that falls after sort of the shine is gone. I know that a lot of people who said, “I’ve never participated in this way, but I’m just so angry.” Or, “I’m so afraid,” or, “I’m so concerned,” that has brought more people into the movement, which is fantastic and much needed. 

Vanessa Wakeman:  As a leader, how do you maintain the energy around it? It’s like there’s so much work to be done. You’re working with activists all around the country, how do you keep people energized and focused on the end game?

Stosh Cotler:  Yeah. Well, I would say this is a constant question that we’re asking ourselves in our organization and I know others are as well. I would say for sure this peak moment when so many people came out, I think it’s so interesting because on the one hand we always want more people to get involved and then it’s also, I think it can be a little bit of cognitive dissonance to say like, “Well, where has everyone been this entire time?” We know that violence happening and horrific, egregious, civil and human rights abuses for decades and decades and decades since this country was founded, and so where have people been? So part of it I think is actually on progressive movement people ourselves to, I can say for myself, to limit my cynicism and some of the judginess that I can have and actually see that this is what we want. I want this. I want them

PART 1 OF 3 ENDS [00:14:04]

Stosh Cotler:  I want this … I want the middle class white Jewish soccer mom to come out. I want her to stay. The question is how are we going to get these people to stay involved? I think for us part of what we’re trying to do is to continue to help people connect with a deeper sense of purpose and meaning, both at the individual level but also at the collective level. What is at stake? Why are we called to do this?

Stosh Cotler:  From a Jewish frame we do that in many ways. Some of which is like values-based, some of it is spiritually-based, or religiously-based. I think it’s a general proposition, which is why is it so critical that we’re showing up? 

Stosh Cotler:   For us, part of what we’re trying to do as well then is to continue to equip people with the skills and tools to continue to take action with people that they’re already in relationship with as well as deepening relationships with communities that are also targeted in this moment.

Stosh Cotler:  We’re simultaneously asking Jews who are getting active and who might be newer to make and build relationship and community with other progressive Jews in their towns and cities as well as to be building and/or deepening relationship with other communities who are really at the front lines right now of some of the just various things that are happening.

Stosh Cotler:  Then particularly with constituents, like many in the Jewish community, although not all, who do have any privilege, whether it’s white skin privilege or class privilege or any of the privileges that we know that make it safer for some of us to take greater risks, part of what we’re really leaning into is equipping our folks with the ability and the endurance muscle to not only continue to show up but to escalate our risk-taking and to recognize that some of us will have lesser negative consequences while we take these greater risks. That is actually a critical role that we need to continue to play [inaudible 00:16:19] play.

Vanessa Wakeman:  Got it. Thank you for that. Let’s talk about your leadership for a moment. You have been in the sector for over three decades. I’d love to get a sense of how you feel your leadership has changed. I know there’s the obvious changes just around experience and wisdom and so there are some shifts and lessons learned. Just in general, think about your leadership today and how you’re approaching your universe. What does it look like? What does your leadership look like? What is your style?

Stosh Cotler:  Well, I don’t know that my style has changed over time as much but the way I approach leadership has changed.

Vanessa Wakeman:  Okay. Tell me a little bit about that. 

Stosh Cotler:  I think, although we could go back and ask people who I was doing social change work with 20 and 30 years ago but my sense is that my leadership style is really collaborative. I love doing this work with other people and I have no sense that I can do this without other people.

Stosh Cotler:   I do my work in community and with other folks who are leading from all different places and in all different ways. I would say I’m more of a facilitative leader as opposed to … I’ve done a lot of leading not always from the front. Sometimes that’s around process as much as vision.

Stosh Cotler:  I believe in especially the last two decades I would say I lead as part of my spiritual practice. They are deeply connected. That hasn’t changed for quite some time. I would say that what has evolved is first there were many, many years, I mean absolutely over a decade, where I didn’t see myself as a leader at all. I was doing the work but even the concept of leadership was not one that I was introduced to until much later in my own just organizing and my own work. 

Stosh Cotler:  At this point in time I would say that right now for me leadership, especially in this moment, is so much on really rooting and anchoring to what is my particular contribution that is unique and additive and knowing that there are other people who have other gifts and talents and so my job is to find what my special piece of this can be and then really living into that as much as I possibly can.

Stosh Cotler:  I feel like right now there’s a ton that relates to discernment because there’s just so much happening every day, every week. The amount of reactivity as well as the need to stay anchored also in vision while we’re simultaneously being responsive that to me has … I’ve needed to really deepen my own focus on discernment.

Stosh Cotler:   Also, I would say being willing to be morally courageous right now feels super key. Lastly I would say the sustainability piece is huge. This is … I’m not sure but I wonder … I wonder what progressives are doing right now. Not only to attend to the sustainability issues of people who are in formal positions of leadership but people who are exerting leadership in all kinds of ways from all positions in the ecosystem of our movement, whether they have formal positional power or not. 

Stosh Cotler:  I’m curious about what we’re doing to sustain ourselves but also to be prepared for what could be a real … We could see I think more people shifting out of leadership roles because the environment right now is so complex and hard. I think it’s possible that we’re going to have a lot of people shift from leadership roles into needing to move out of the movement or take a prolonged break in a way that I don’t know that we’re really preparing for enough. I’m trying to think with folks on how to be ready for that if that happens.

Vanessa Wakeman:   Do you think there’s any proactive approaches to self-care that can help to eliminate that? The work is hard. You certainly know that. What I find in just my observations in our work with non-profit organizations is that people just literally exhaust themselves. It’s nonstop. There’s always something to fight for. There’s always some issue to get behind. The mindset in the non-profit sector is often … 

Vanessa Wakeman:  I see with a lot of leaders is this concept of sacrifice. Like, “Okay, this is so important and if we can just get this to this next level so many people will be helped.” There’s a lot of sacrifice and not a ton of self-care and balance. Do you think that that would help at all to maybe eliminate having people leaving or, as you said, taking extended breaks? Or do you think there’s nothing to prevent that from happening?

Stosh Cotler:  Yeah. Well, I definitely feel I do see different emphasis on sustainability and just an awareness that this work takes its toll. The role itself of … If we’re thinking about an executive director type role, the role itself is kind of a setup in terms of the isolation it can create and some of the demands of how many organizations have constructed that particular role.

Stosh Cotler:   I would say more people aware that self-care throughout the process of leading is critical to anyone’s longevity and anyone’s ability to stay in the work. Also, for the success of our movement. If we continue to lose people at a rapid rate we lose the relationships, we lose the institutional knowledge, and we potentially lose someone who was really visionary and amazing.

Stosh Cotler:  Organizations like Rockwood or Generative Semantics or other groups that are really focusing on supporting movement leaders in one aspect is on being able to be in this work in a way that is not life-threatening or life toxic for leaders and gives us tools to be able to set some boundaries for ourselves on how we engage in the work as we go.

Stosh Cotler:  I think that some of that is sinking in. I do think that it is still a really … There’s not anyone I know who has been leading in this last couple of years who doesn’t feel like this is an entirely different kind of environment to lead in and that it’s just taking a toll on people in ways that are predictable in many ways but are happening at a level and a scale that I think is pretty intense.

Stosh Cotler:  That part I don’t know … I don’t know if it’s resolvable or if any of these additional interventions are going to be enough. Part of me feels like then in addition to practicing all the self-care that we can, both individually and also figuring out how organizations and how communities can create collective modes of self-care and that this isn’t just up to the individual person to find it for themselves but that it becomes a value of organizations and of communities.

Stosh Cotler:   I also think that part of our leadership work is to be really deepening the bench of people who can be coming in and taking up leadership, which is also definitely happening. I think that it’s going to be needed.

Vanessa Wakeman:  As far as deepening the bench let’s dive into that for a moment. I know there’s a lot of data and reports that speak to the lack of women leaders in the non-profit sector and a need for more people of color to lead. How do we deepen the bench with those populations?

Stosh Cotler:  Yeah. Well, I would say for any of the organizations whose leadership, whether it’s the senior leadership team or the boards of those organizations that don’t see the value in having women and/or people of color or other minoritized groups of people in leadership roles, I think part of the work is to help that set of gatekeepers and decision makers understand why it’s so critical to have a shift in who is actually leading our organizations. 

Stosh Cotler:  Why that shift in leadership is both an equity issue but also really a strategic issue for us to be effective and to win as progressives. I would say in terms of how to … 

Stosh Cotler:  For us at Bend The Arc, we’ve been having that conversation internally. I’ve been at this organization for now almost 14 years and I’ve been in my role for four and a half. When I came into my role we had an organization that had a history of having men and women in leadership roles but the top leadership roles by men both at the staff and the board levels. Our organization was mostly white with Jews of color not in leadership roles or in numbers that were reflective of our community.

Stosh Cotler:  Right now between 10% and 20% of the Jewish community identifies as people of color and same gender splits as other communities. Part of what we’ve been doing is really looking at how we can both understand for ourselves why it is so much of an equity issue, why it’s important to have congruity between what we say our values and work is externally in the world and how we actually look and behave and operate internally in our organizational system.

Stosh Cotler:  Then also why having not just different voices around the table but having people of color and women and other oppressed groups, people who have a multiplicity of identities, actually framing the conversation. Not just being at the table but actually defining what the conversation will be and then based on that framing then go into the strategy and into the points of view that help really create a robust response instead of solutions to some of the challenges we see. That’s actually going to make all of us more effective.

Stosh Cotler:  We’ve been doing that work. I would say everything from … It’s a culture change that we’re really looking for that affects systems and structures and everything like hiring practices and how to include equity in hiring practices. We just did a training with the management center and they have a great approach to using an equity lens. I think it’s …

Stosh Cotler:  … a great approach to using an equity lens, so I think it’s a multi-tiered shift that we need to make.

Vanessa Wakeman:  And then as part of that shift, where does inter-generational leadership fall, like I don’t feel like we talk about that piece enough, about where it leaves me, personally. I’m constantly talking about how are we preparing the next generation of leaders, but there is a tremendous amount of wealth with some of the older leadership, or just people of older generations within organizations. How do we capitalize on that but still making space for the young leaders?

Stosh Cotler:   Yeah. Well, personally myself, I love being part of, and I want more inter-generational movement spaces and places where we can really see the vibrancy of what happens when we have people who are at different parts of their lifespan, and their activist journeys come together and share their different points of view, and I would say I think part of the tricky challenge, at least as I see it in Jewish spaces is, for example, we have an older generation … I’ll call them our Jewish elders or seasoned leaders who might be like, in their 70s, late 60s, 70s, or 80s, and they just come from a generation that has a very different story entirely of what this country stands for, what it means to be a Jew who, people who are in their 70s and 80s have their own actual memories of being racialized, even for those Jews, right now, who have white skin privilege and who identify and pass as white who see being Jewish as being a perpetual outsider, and then you have that compared to what we would call emerging leaders. 

Stosh Cotler:  Jews in their 20s, who are very clear that while this country has provided opportunities for many Jews of other generations, particularly white Jews, they’re much more connected to the story of this country being one founded on genocide and slavery, and don’t feel connected to the identity as being someone who has been targeted, but identify much more from their Jewish identity as a group of privileged folks, so it’s interesting when we think about this inter-generational work to be thinking about how people are coming into the work with radically different perceptions of reality and where they sit in that reality. So it’s not just trying to garner the wisdom that we might have from seasoned leaders or the wisdom we get from emerging leaders, but also taking into account how do we reconcile those different stories which then produce different interpretations of what the challenges are, and then different senses of what the strategies and solutions can and should be going forward. So I think it’s like, there’s a really juicy set of challenges in doing it, and it feels to me like … I’ll just say it. 

Stosh Cotler:  I mean really, you know, in the Jewish community, at least, where we’re so small of a percentage of the community, if we can’t figure how to do this work inter-generationally, we’re never going to be able to build and work with the numbers that we need to [crosstalk 00:31:27] in order to make change. So for us, it feels like an imperative, really, but it also feels like there’s just something rich in general, and the story we see playing out in the Jewish community may have its own unique characteristics, but power dynamics and the lack of ability to put oneself in another generation’s shoes, and wanting from an older generation to pass the torch and to see new leaders coming up into their own. Like, those are things that happen and transcend constituencies and communities, but yeah. I don’t know if you’ve seen things that you think are working or that feel inspiring to you, but-

Vanessa Wakeman:   I have not seen, unfortunately, and maybe I’m not looking in the right places. I haven’t seen a lot of success stories, and it could be like I said, I’m not looking in the right places. I am hearing frustrations from emerging leaders, or new leaders, that they are getting a lot of pushback, and then, I think what’s also interesting, some of the older leaders are saying like, “Hey, I still have something I want to contribute,” and so, what I feel like I’m hearing from folks is that we have not figured out what the collaboration looks like so that we are taking advantage of everyone’s insights and experience and what they have to offer, and so, if the older leaders, the older generations, if they are still feeling like they can contribute, then I think that we should make sure that there’s space for them to do that, but I also think it’s important when folks are not able to, that they can self-assess and recognize that maybe it is time to allow some new energy and new expertise and excellence to be able to champion the issue, and so, I think there’s these emotional components of the leadership and how we work together that we may not be addressing, so we’re often looking at it from a very cerebral place of, “Okay, well, this is what Lisa or John or whomever has done, and this is what they can offer.” 

Vanessa Wakeman:  They may be ready to retire or not ready, and we’re not thinking about like, the emotional impact of identifying with a role and now being asked to either share some of that space or to play a lesser role, or the emotional, sort of, impact of being sort of held in a space of, “Oh, it’s not your turn yet,” when you really are excited and care deeply about an issue, so I think that maybe we can reach that next step of collaboration if we have that discussion about like, the emotional element of it, and what it means to each of us in our own role in leadership.

Stosh Cotler:  Yeah. Totally.

Vanessa Wakeman:  Our time is almost up, but I would be cheating myself and our listeners if we did not have at least one money question, and so, I know in the non-profit sector, we’re always talking about money. How can we get more? What do we need to do? How do we connect with donors in our audiences? My very first season of the podcast, I had a conversation with Ana Oliveira from the New York Women’s Foundation, and one of the quotes that she made that sort of stuck with me is this idea of money following leadership. That you know, if a leader is strong, and there’s a vision, and there are things happening, that the money will certainly follow, and so I’d like to ask you if you can share any tips or advice for how people can put that into practice based on your success.

Stosh Cotler:  Yeah, well, the way I would answer that question has less to do with my own success in this, and more with what I’ve seen in other leaders who I just have tremendous respect for.

Vanessa Wakeman:   Sure.

Stosh Cotler:  And how they’re relating to funders and what I see them doing that I think is not only strategic, because they are raising funds to direct to their work and their constituencies, but because they’re also carving out new paths forward, so you know, part of what I think is attractive to funders are leaders who are really clear that they are moving an agenda that is so forward thinking, that is so imaginative, that we don’t see the possibilities in this current moment, but those possibilities exist in a time frame that we need to be putting ourselves in, so the vision of some leaders, I think is just really dynamic and important, and I think that then thinking about how, as leaders, can we really do our own practice of visioning? How are carving out the time in our day or week or month to really be thinking about the vision of our organization, but also our field or our movement. What are the things that we can do that are not yet possible? But we have to begin to really rigorously build that muscle in ourselves, so that’s one piece.

Stosh Cotler:  I also think that there’s an incredible value and need for those leaders who are really framers of our current reality. Helping us make sense of what is happening, and then, helping point a direction towards what is head, and it’s often combined with the visionary leadership, so in particular, I’m thinking right now of Heather McGee and Rashad Robinson, who right after the election in 2016, put together this framework for understanding what was happening, but also what was needed, and how we could be building a collective response, and that framing was just so important to get some of us who are in organizations that do our work in partnership to have something to then move into, and to move into something collectively, so from that, I would take away how are we explaining reality in a way that is helping take our donors and funders and constituents into that next move? 

Stosh Cotler:  And then, finally I would say, people are bringing folks together in combinations that are really smart. I think Christina Jimenez from United We Dream, is someone who is part of a web of folks bringing people who are both likely and unlikely allies to the table, and I think that funders want to see leaders who are deeply invested in the success of other leaders and other organizations, and helping make these necessary links between our issues and our organizations, and within our movement, since we know … I mean, we all know that all of these issues are interconnected and mutually reinforcing, and yet, we still, many of us do our work in silos, and so I think that there’s a tremendous value in becoming the kind of leader that is constantly weaving those webs of relationships and webs of communities together.

Vanessa Wakeman:   I love the idea of collaboration and sort of, working together. Great insights. Thank you for that. 

Vanessa Wakeman:  Stosh, if folks want to learn more about Bend the Arc and the work that you’re doing, where should they go? You want to share a website?

Stosh Cotler:  Yeah. Folks can go to just type in Bend the Arc. B-E-N-D-T-H-E-A-R-C, and our website will come up, and you can find us on Facebook, Twitter, if you type in the same thing.

Vanessa Wakeman:  Beautiful. Thank you so much for your time and your insights. I think there’s lots of valuable gems, here, that our listeners can use and would appreciate, and I hope we have an opportunity to chat again.

Stosh Cotler:  Thanks so much. It was really fantastic to be here.

Vanessa Wakeman:  Well, I’d like to certainly, again, thank Stosh for joining us, and for sharing her perspective about what’s going on, and sharing some of her advice and thoughts about her leadership and just what is needed for leadership today, and what’s changed. I think it’s a really important conversation, and when I first started this season, I was really interested in getting a number of diverse voices and hearing from different people about how their own experience has informed how they are participating in the social change sector, and I think Stosh is a great example of someone whose leadership, and her experience has really paved the way for her to create something greater, and I think she shared some of that through her, some of what she talked about in her role at Bend the Arc, so thank you so much. I hope you enjoy this episode, and tune in next week.

PART 3 OF 3 ENDS [00:40:37]