Nonprofits often use a change of leadership as a chance to build support for their work. “It’s an opportunity for that person to meet and interact with the public in a really meaningful way,” says Jessie Landl.
Yet when she was named executive director of the Preservation Society of Asheville and Buncombe County in August, there was no big meet-and-greet: The continuing pandemic made sure of that. Instead, supporters were merely notified via email.
Landl wasn’t disappointed by her low-key start, though. “We are far enough into COVID that we were prepared for this,” she says. “It’s kind of becoming the new norm at this point.”
And for the group’s members, Landl was already a familiar face, having served as director of development and programming for three years. “I’ve always been drawn to architecture,” she explains. “I like things that last, and I love the idea of a building having many lives.”
That includes the house Landl lives in, where she recently painted an abstract, underwater-themed mural in her guest room. “It’s terrible but a much-needed distraction,” she confesses. “I’m pretty sure I will be painting over it when we can have people over to our house again.”
Like many other organizations, says Landl, the Preservation Society has had to adapt to the ongoing COVID-related restrictions and guidelines. For example, its year-round educational programs are now conducted remotely. “It hasn’t been seamless,” Landl says with a laugh, “but we’re figuring it out. And in a lot of ways, we’re learning that we’re able to reach a lot more people when we do things online.”
Despite the greater virtual turnout, however, the Preservation Society still faces the same fundraising hurdles that most nonprofits are experiencing during the current global health crisis, including the cancellation of its biggest annual fundraiser, the Time Traveling Gala.
Nevertheless, Landl says she’s optimistic about the future. Among the programs she’s most excited about is the organization’s revolving fund, which will focus on preservation efforts in underserved neighborhoods like Shiloh and the East End.
“We are working with these communities to hear from them about what places are important to preserve,” she explains.
At the same time, Landl says she’s eager to reconnect with her organization’s members when conditions allow. In-person events, she believes, remain critical to any nonprofit’s momentum and success. “It allows your supporters to understand the projects that you’re working on and feel your enthusiasm for the mission and goals that you’re trying to achieve — and that’s a tough thing to be missing right now.”
This article is part of COVID Conversations, a series of short features based on interviews with members of our community during the coronavirus pandemic in Western North Carolina. If you or someone you know has a unique story you think should be featured in a future issue of Xpress, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.