NVRDC (Network for Victim Recovery of DC)
For nearly a decade, Bridgette has spent her legal career advocating to ensure those impacted by crime are afforded meaningful rights and access to supportive services to mitigate the negative effects of trauma post-victimization. She has led local and national policy efforts to advance the rights of survivors—providing expertise to members of the U.S. Congress and offering legal testimony and analysis to the DC Council on legislation impacting the rights of survivors locally.
Tell us about your leadership style and how this contributes to your organization’s success.
The concept of sustainable passion is at the core of my leadership style. I strive to create and continually foster a culture where passion for our work is celebrated among staff and leadership.
Fostering innovation is another key to my leadership style. Constantly, we are pushing the bar forward to advocate for the rights of our client population, and piloting new ways of addressing the needs and barriers that keep vulnerable and disadvantaged members of the community from achieving full recovery. I encourage staff to bring creative ideas to the table, while also ensuring we plan in a thoughtful way that draws upon best practices and research to the extent possible. For example, last year a staff member brought forward the idea to pilot a Restorative Justice project. Some members of my team were understandably skeptical of applying these practices to our client population. After careful research, listening sessions, and planning with staff and expert consultants, we piloted a groundbreaking Restorative Justice effort with sexual assault survivors. This spoke to the need many of our survivors have for creative justice when traditional avenues are not available or accessible based on historical oppression and distrust of formal response and justice systems.
When I co-founded NVRDC in 2012, it was important to me to include the word “network” in the name. None of us can do this work alone. Collaboration and community building, rather than competition among professionals has been key to my leadership approach, and something I strive to model daily for staff. Several years ago, we led the creation of the Victim Legal Network of DC (VLNDC). This is a unique hub‐and‐spoke model that connects victims with dozens of providers to quickly and efficiently meet all of their legal needs. VLNDC has completely revolutionized the traditional referral barriers that keep many survivors from accessing justice. I believe the key to our success in starting and growing the effort was due to an approach that genuinely encourages collaboration over competition.
Nonprofits are constantly competing for limited resources, so it is easy to fall into an unhelpful pattern. However, I feel it is imperative to model a culture of sharing and encouragement of our peers across the field – ultimately for the greater benefit of survivors, who often have a myriad of legal needs that no one organization can, or should, offer to solve alone.
What advice would you offer for other nonprofit leaders?
I believe the most important quality of a nonprofit leader is the willingness to show vulnerability and to foster this openness in staff.
Each of the approaches to my leadership that I discussed here requires vulnerability. It can be intimidating to admit and embrace the passion you have for making a difference in the world. It is far easier to pretend indifference. If we don’t truly care about the work, we won’t be hurt when we experience failures, and we won’t be mocked by others. A good leader in our field should lead their staff in modeling and encouraging the vulnerability required to show excitement and zeal for the goals we are hoping to achieve.
Innovation also requires a certain element of risk. There is only so much research and previously studied best practices to comfort you in deciding to pilot a creative idea. A good nonprofit leader must accept the uncertainty, so that the identified need or gap expressed by the target population can be addressed. By maintaining a flexible and nimble approach, course correction can be taken if needed.
Most of all, a leader must introduce a certain level of vulnerability into themselves and their organization in order to fully collaborate. Inherently, needing partnerships in our field, means admitting that true community building is not done alone as a single entity. This is particularly challenging when nonprofits are often expected to show up and do more, with less.
My piece of advice to other leaders: acknowledge the power of vulnerability as you strive to make life‐changing, strategic decisions for your stakeholders. Courageous leadership requires the possibility of failure and means we can name and learn from our mistakes. It is in these moments we create permission for others to also demonstrate courage and bravery.
What does this award mean for you and your organization?
The EXCEL Award would be a tremendous affirmation of NVRDC’s work for survivors of crime in the District and provide a positive effect on the morale of staff, the board and the populations we serve.
Every day, our advocates and attorneys walk alongside victims of crime who have survived painful trauma. In some cases, our staff first meets clients at the hospital in the early hours of the night and morning, while they are in the midst of the worst crisis of their lives, or at the courthouse, where they can feel overwhelmed and re‐traumatized. Our staff endeavors to give power and self‐determination back to the survivors—to put them back in the driver’s seat of their lives. This work swings between being difficult and incredibly rewarding. This is why it is crucial to celebrate our successes.
Receiving this EXCEL award would be a validation of how impactful NVRDC’s work is on the DC community and a recognition of how much we have achieved in a short period of time. As I aim to create leaders for change in our field, generally, this award is confirmation that NVRDC is modeling an example for others to follow in pushing leadership approaches that drive innovation, creative solutions, integrity and community building.