OPINION: Why nonprofits need to mandate vaccines

I’m a nonprofit leader who took over as CEO during the middle of the pandemic. As a young breast cancer survivor, I received my vaccine as early as possible and I happily shared my photo on social media. But, as a CEO of a non-profit organization with a majority of Black and Brown staff members and participants, I deeply understand the concerns that folks have about vaccination. America has an ugly history of involuntary medical experimentation on Black and Brown people: the same communities that are being disproportionately impacted by COVID.

Why nonprofits need to mandate vaccines ignite national sara guillermo selfieThe confluence of these contradictions have weighed on me, but I have come to the conclusion that as the government and corporations have come out with mandatory vaccination policies, it’s time for nonprofits and foundations to do the same. 

The nonprofit sector is the third largest industry in the US, behind retail and manufacturing. The nearly 2 million US non-profit organizations collectively employ about 10% of the entire workforce. And it’s not just these employees who are at risk. This massive workforce serves the communities and people across America who are most impacted by COVID-19: essential workers, healthcare workers, teachers, low-income children, and more. 

During the early stages of the pandemic I guided my organization through a relentless transition. We went from training 7,500 young women a year in communities across America to doing the same work online for an increasingly anxious, isolated and despairing group of young women, all in the midst of the most socially and politically turbulent era of our lifetime. I knew a vaccination policy was coming down the pike and I spent countless hours with our senior leadership team and Board to determine what made the most sense for our organization, which had employees in over 20 states, each with varying policies and social mores around the pandemic. We threw ideas around for months - with the hope that America would reach herd immunity before a policy would become necessary. In the meantime, almost 25% of my staff contracted COVID - with varying degrees of symptoms and need for time off.  

Creating policies to protect the nonprofit workforce is critical to meet the demands of the nonprofit workload. When our employees got sick, there was nobody to do their work, and so our clients suffered, just when they needed us the most. Most nonprofits are in the same position, and will be failing (or worse, infecting) their unvaccinated clients. 

As we started to craft our own vaccination policy, we asked a lot of questions around equity and accessibility. We recognized the roadblocks a mandate would create for our workforce. Information around vaccines is constantly changing. Accessibility to shots can vary by zip code. We also battled the diversity of perspective and experiences around medical skepticism. But at the end of the day we made vaccinations mandatory, because we need to safely serve our participants in their communities. Furthermore I have shared our plan with other nonprofit leaders because there is no roadmap for what we are facing as non-profit CEOs right now, creating work organizational plans predicated on uncertain funding and potential massive employee absences; we are literally making it up as we go. 

With an ever-growing workforce, it’s time that nonprofits and foundations mandate vaccines and create policies that will protect our workforce and the communities we serve. COVID made our work more critical than ever before. Instead of reacting, let’s take the  bold step and protect our employees and our most vulnerable communities. With vaccines. 


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