Wednesday, November 30, 2016

What's Ahead for Nonprofits - The Looming Trump Era

"Seismic" is too mild an  adjective  for the event of  Donald Trump's surprising election to the presidency. Maybe even"cataclysmic." I will leave it to others (and there is no shortage of them) to analyze why and how it happened. Here I want to suggest what a Trump administration, along with Republican control of the Congress,  might mean for nonprofits, both for their own welfare  and the roles they might play in our society in  the coming years.

We don't know of course exactly what form legislation, executive orders (or rescissions thereof) or other initiatives will take. But broadly there will be some that directly or indirectly will surely affect nonprofits. In the indirect category revisions of the tax code stand out, particularly any significant  change in the maximum allowable write-offs for charitable giving, which might reduce incentives for donations. There is a theory too that projected tax cuts for the very wealthy might further dampen giving.

As for direct effect, e,g. cuts in federal support that goes primarily to social service agencies and education, the declared intention to cut federal spending by 1% annually  (exclusive of entitlements such as Medicare and the military) if enacted, would hit hard. Also at risk are the organizations long on the hit list of conservatives: Planned Parenthood,  the arts and humanities agencies and others - all now perilously exposed with  right wing Republicans sitting in the catbird seat. The unwritten partnership between the federal government and the nonprofits that look after many of the needs of our society is now likely to unravel.

There are almost countless scenarios, likely of the dark variety, that can be written because of this shift in power, especially because of the rhetorical groundwork in the campaign laid by Mr, Trump that demonized  those who are not white, Christian, physically and mentally able, among others. There is a deep unease, and indeed fear, abroad in the land. Nonprofits will have to continue to  do their best work  in spite of facing the likelihood  of reduced resources. But collectively there is something else they can do.

As a group, notwithstanding some bad apples, nonprofits represent what is best in our society. They exist to help others, with health care, education, spiritual growth, community development, public safety, etc. They are largely funded by voluntary gifts and guided by volunteer boards with their work made possible by the donation of  millions of  volunteer hours.

It seems possible, and there is evidence emerging to support the worry, that the toxic atmosphere spawned by the Trump campaign will encourage discriminatory and even hateful behavior by members of the public, to say nothing of any actions that may be taken by the incoming government itself. Nonprofits and their leaders should be vigilant in their own communities for such instances, regardless of their respective missions. Recently at  the annual conference November 17 held by the umbrella organization for nonprofits Independent Sector as reported in The Chronicle for Philanthropy, several speakers made points that we need to consider.

From Brian Gallagher, CEO of United Way Worldwide: " Civil society is our business. We can take a pass on the economy - that's not quite our business; we can take a pass on politics- that's not quite our business; but we can't take a pass on culture."

David Smith, director of the Presidio Institute hoped the nonprofit world could create a "brave space" where those marginalized could come together.

Finally, Michael Steel, described as a Republican political strategist, was asked how nonprofit leaders might "listen to racists without getting angry at them." He replied, "I don’t think we should talk to racists without getting angry at them" This remark was greeted with sustained audience applause.

We are entering a scary and unknown world.  Here is my coda message, best said as always elsewhere, At his father's funeral in 2013, Michael Heaney, the son of the great Irish poet Seamus Heaney,  revealed in his eulogy a text message Heaney sent to his wife just hours before his death. It was in Latin : "Noli Timere": Don't Be Afraid.

Comments on this and any other blog post found in the site archive are welcome at: