As we start a new year with a new U.S. president, many nonprofits are struggling with a new, vague question: given the election (national and local), how do we approach, think about, and view our work differently — if at all?
Reactions to President-elect Trump’s victory have run the political spectrum — as have the reactions from the nonprofit community:
• The ACLU immediately threw down a challenge to Trump
: “See you in court.”
• In contrast, Humane Society President and CEO Wayne Pacelle wrote in his post-election blog
: “We congratulate him [President-elect Trump]...We welcome the opportunity to sit down with the president-elect.”
• Nonprofits who fear Trump's initiatives know that their donors have the same fears, and have focused on fundraising based on the premise of upcoming fights. The New York Times reported, for instance, that the California-based Sierra Club signed up 11,000 new donors
in the week after the election, about ten times more than any other week they’ve ever had.
• Pro-Trump groups are also seeing large fundraising bumps, such as the conservative Californians for Population Stabilization (curtail immigration) and the Susan B. Anthony List (anti-abortion), as Fortune Magazine reports
On the ground, some nonprofits fear that immigrants are already more reluctant, for example, to seek medical care or legal services due to concerns over being identified. “We give scholarships to students regardless of immigration status,” one Livermore foundation says. “We’re afraid that some students will be afraid to apply.” This foundation is planning ways to communicate to students and their high school counselors in light of a more anti-immigration climate.
In the meantime, we are seeing an unprecedented aggressive stance from our state legislative leaders to “protect” California against a Trump agenda, even before it fully emerges. Exhibit A: State Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León has introduced the "California Values Act
,” which would prevent state and local governments from aiding federal immigration agents in deportation actions. Exhibit B: California Governor Jerry Brown has struck a defiant tone towards Washington, including his pledge that California will not back down on climate change. A new tone emerges from nonprofits
Perhaps most striking to us in the immediate wake of the election was a new tone from many nonprofits that took a much broader view of the election than simply how it would affect their own particular issues. Planned Parenthood’s statement discussed reproductive healthcare, but also spoke to issues of “democracy, economic security, and...the safety and dignity of people of color.” Laura Lott, president of the American Alliance of Museums, spoke about more than museum funding as she reaffirmed her organization’s commitment to equity and inclusion
As we nonprofits individually and collectively tack our ways towards a strategic stance, we at the California Association of Nonprofits (CalNonprofits) have identified some ideas to consider:
1) This is a time for nonprofits to expand our mission thinking, not narrow it.
We all need to place our work in a larger context and be willing to speak out on issues foundational to the pluralism that nonprofits exemplify, even if they are not within our immediate frames of reference. Rather than “mission creep,” doing so is “mission expansion," "adding context to mission," and acknowledging explicitly that our work is based on shared values within and around each of our organizations.
2) Although we will need to react to challenges as they arise (as we always have) we should continue to proactively demand what our communities need.
We can and should still promote new solutions and ways of approaching intractable problems. Nonprofits need to continue our role as innovators, the people who say “yes, and” and “yes we can." If, for example, it looks like we may not be able to save the Affordable Care Act, it might be time to bring out some other models like the public option or single payer.
3) We should talk on our staffs and boards about how our clients, constituents and patrons are reacting and develop means to address threats to civility and inclusion.
For example, at a youth center we might help counselors take on issues before tempers flare over racist remarks, or put up signs in our clinic waiting rooms answering questions that clients might have about health services and their immigration status. In theatres and museums we can think about what messages our communities want to hear through our programming.
4) Although we nonprofits are used to calling on our state legislators to get them to vote for or against something, in this era we should ask them how we can support their efforts to help California regardless of whatever adverse laws and regulations may be coming out of Washington.
After the early rhetoric, there is specific "protect California" legislation now that we'll want to weigh in on.
5) Back in D.C., policymakers may tend either to discount our mostly-Democratic votes in Congress, or take us for granted.
But some debates could be close this year, and the votes of Republicans and moderate Democrats will be more important. Our representatives to Congress — especially those who are Republican or moderate Democrats — will need to hear from us more than ever about national issues. For example, with more than 12 million Californians receiving MediCal benefits
we will need to weigh in with California reps on national issues such as Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act.
In short, neither jubilation nor despair is right for California nonprofits at this moment. This is a newly important time for us to ask ourselves, "Who is our community, and what do they need us to be doing right now? What are the values our community needs to see us standing up for?"
Please feel free to leave your comments -- we're eager to hear your thoughts as we go forward together.