- Some nonprofits are struggling to properly care for their clients because they are using multiple or different names when seeking services. These clients are too afraid to use their real names and expose themselves to potential raids for suspected illegal immigrants – even clients who are in the United States legally.
- Nonprofit leaders are feeling a need to create continuity plans (or disaster plans) out of a fear that their organizations may be targeted for an attack (arson, vandalism, or bullying) because they address issues that have become politically charged.
- Nonprofits that exist to support women’s issues chose not to participate in International Women’s Day celebrations because doing so may align the organization with one political party and alienate donors and volunteers from the opposing political party.
- Some volunteers and board members who want to support the nonprofits that address the issues that concern most are being turned away because their reputations/identities are deemed “too political.”
- Large professional associations continually send nonprofit leaders surveys and articles asking us to identify how the new presidential administration is impeding our work and rallying us to “fight” against the administration to defend our causes.
Those who share these stories have asked us for help and guidance. We’ve identified 4 specific tips and want to share them with you, too:
First, re-frame the conversation. Our organizations face the very real threat of program interruptions from fires, earthquakes, dramatic federal budget cuts, economic recessions, political agendas, or poor assumptions about our organizational purpose every single day. We must always be diligent in our stewardship of our organizations – whether in defining a continuity plan or an advocacy policy. If we’ve been remiss in these management areas, the fault is our own and not the fault of a particular president or political party. Let’s not allow ourselves to become “victims” of the current political environment. Rather, let’s allow this turbulent time to motivate and re-engage us in our long-term planning and risk management responsibilities so that we can shore up our organizations to better weather the storms that will inevitably come to us from many different sources and directions. And, most importantly, let’s commit to maintaining our vigilance as we move forward.
Second, remember that all 501(c)3 organizations are legally required to remain non-partisan at all times. Charitable organizations are a “partisanship-free” zone. If a volunteer, board member, or donor wants to participate in our work to help us fulfill our missions, we owe it to the constituents we serve to allow them to do so. For whom an individual votes or which campaign sign may be in his/her front yard is a non-issue. If you’re worried that folks may try to align with your organization with an ulterior motive, you can protect your organization by establishing and consistently applying carefully defined policies and procedures around board member vetting, expectations for board member performance, gift acceptance policies, and donor recognition policies, to name a few. We must apply the same nondiscrimination practices we use for hiring our employees or serving our clients with our volunteers and donors. We need everyone’s participation in the nonprofit sector if we want our communities to be healthier and more vibrant. We have a moral obligation to invite participation and not build barriers to impede it.
Third, don’t make decisions out of fear. Rather, make decisions based on what your organization believes to be true as defined by your mission statement. Borrowing from the example above, if a nonprofit was founded on the belief that woman are entitled to equal rights and protections, then it must participate or promote International Women’s Day or participate in a local march. Not participating out of the fear that a donor may incorrectly view your participation as partisan and become disgruntled is unreasonable and unfair to your clients and that donor. If an activity is strongly aligned with your mission, it is worth doing. Allow your mission to be your guide and organizational conscious, not your fears. Not everyone will support your mission, and that’s OK. Those donors who do support your mission will respect what you do in service to it, even when those activities may be politicized by the media or others. Schedule some time at your next board and staff meetings to review your mission and values statements so that all members of your organization are empowered to communicate and demonstrate them effectively.
Lastly, let’s choose not to respond to perceived attacks on our work defensively. Taking a stance of “fighting back” only increases the amount of fighting that is occurring all around us. Instead, let’s work harder at communicating (listening, specifically) for greater understanding and agreement. We need to ask more questions to identify common ground rather than declaring to defend our territories. After all, a hunting enthusiast and a vegan can both support wildlife habitat conservation. A gun manufacturer and a pacifist can both agree on the need to support our veterans. And, a fast food restaurant owner and nutritionist can join forces to build more playgrounds to help children be more physically active. Let’s find our common denominators, join forces to realize our shared goals, and serve as a model for the rest of our national, state and local communities.
If you need a template for an advocacy policy, board contract or other policies, or if you would like consulting help to implement any of these strategies, please call Spokes at 805-547-2244 or firstname.lastname@example.org.