Loneliness is an Epidemic

Feeling isolated affects all other aspects of our lives and society – from poor mental health to a 29% increased risk of heart disease. When we lack connection with others, it diminishes our trust in systems causing major rifts in our society’s ability to make changes for the better. Our engagement at work is decreased and productivity declines.

So I’ll say it again: loneliness is an epidemic. And unlike many other public health crises, it seems like a lot of the burden to solve the problem is weighing on the individuals feeling lonely. To “get out there” or “make an effort.”

When you Google “loneliness,” one of the first things that pops up under treatment is “Self Treatment – Volunteering, attending community or religious events, or taking a class may help form new friendships and reduce loneliness. Going for a meal, coffee, or a walk with family or friends may also help.”

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be doing these things, but the onus shouldn’t be only on the lonely or the people in charge of health systems. Folks “in the middle” need to make spaces and seek out others who may be caught in the fray.

Trust = The Antidote

A lot of what we’re doing at Next Stage is inadvertently addressing loneliness. Susan just wrote about networking for introverts, Helen about walking in someone else’s shoes and Josh about how collaboration is the way forward. Additionally, The UnFundable Project was all about building trust between funders and nonprofits. Trust, otherwise known as the antidote to loneliness.

We’re not trying to gain followers or clients just for the sake of doing it, but rather to have people to walk alongside us. So that we can build spaces and conversations equally between folks that may not have happened otherwise. In our 2024 strategic planning conversations, we’ve established that “Next Stage is a movement of people who choose to work together to advance social good. We complement each other with knowledge, skills and lived experience that strengthens everything we do.”

Maybe Next Stage has naturally followed this path because of Josh’s experience as a founding CEO. Just last week, he wrote in his blog post, “No one tells you when you start a company how lonely it can be.”

It’s Lonely at the Top

Similar to entrepreneurs, founders and executive directors for small and emerging nonprofits experience loneliness. Especially when a big chunk of their time is spent trying to convince funders that their mission is worthy of investment.

We gave our UnFundable Project grant recipient Caroline Calouche a watercolor painting by local artist Eva Crawford (along with $10,000 to pay for her studio’s damaged floor). The painting shows a paper airplane, which from the beginning of this initiative has embodied the spirit of “unfundable.” It didn’t hit me why a paper airplane felt so right to represent this program until we were several weeks into the process but it’s because a lot of us feel like we’re building the plane while we’re flying it.

I’m so proud of The UnFundable Project and how it addresses this struggle. Putting trust in nonprofits and their leaders is like reaching out and saying – you don’t have to do this alone, you don’t have to feel lonely, and you don’t have to build this plane by yourself. We can’t forget when we look at budget spreadsheets and projections that a lot of those dollars reflect people. If you’re a corporation, cutting budget from your philanthropy line item isn’t just saving you money, it’s impacting people who receive nonprofit services, and the staff who run those nonprofits.

Do Your Job

In 2022, the Harvard Business Review wrote an article about the power of friends at work. We know that loneliness is an epidemic, and yet it’s a struggle to get people to step up to tackle it, especially among employers. In general, the philosophy is that you should get in, do your job, and get out. And to be honest, a lot of employees may think they want this too. If you’re groaning a little bit at the idea of staying late for a team happy hour, or driving back into town on a weeknight for a team dinner, think twice about the benefits it may have not just for your team success, but also for your individual wellbeing.

So we have our careers, but this is a reminder that it’s also our “job” to look out for each other. And on this Valentine’s Day, whether you’re feeling lonely or not, I hope you take a minute to pause and look at someone else. See if you can walk alongside them for a while, offer a helping hand, or a shoulder to cry on. Acknowledge the human condition as being wired to seek community and connection but that the American systems encourage fierce individualism. As the saying goes, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

We have to continue to create opportunities for connection – for the entrepreneur, the nonprofit executive director and the employee. Those of us in positions of power to make space for collaboration and connection must do so.

And so, I’d like to wrap up this blog by listing the 44 organizations, in alphabetical order, that applied to The UnFundable Project grant initiative. We were only able to award one grant, but that doesn’t mean your causes are not important.

We see you and your value. You are not alone and your work matters.

2024 The UnFundable Project Grant Applicants

Access to Success (A2S)
Adoption Support Alliance
Another Chance House of Refuge Inc
ANSWER Scholarship, Inc.
ArtPop Street Gallery
Assistance League of Charlotte
AS Strategy LLC
Backspinz Music Academy
Bethany’s Butterflies Foundation
Beyond Housing
Brave Step
The Bulb Gallery
Caroline Calouche & Co.
Catawba Riverkeeper
The Center for Community Transitions
Charlotte Bilingual Preschool
Charlotte Street Art Collaborative
The Coneflower Collective
Council for Children’s Rights
Diaper Bank of North Carolina
Dottie Rose Foundation
Exposure Project Inc.
The Frankie Mae Foundation
Girls Rock Charlotte DBA We Rock Charlotte
Hearts for the Invisible Charlotte Coalition
Hope Vibes Inc.
Just Do It Movement INC
Latin American Coalition
Lorien Academy of the Arts
McColl Center
Metrolina Association for the Blind, Inc.
Mind Body Baby NC
Money Magnets Club
Peoples Private Learning (PPL)
Planet Improv
Present Age Ministries
QC Family Tree
Upcycle Arts
Urban Institute for Strengthening Families
UrbanPromise Charlotte
Youth Meditation