Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Preparing to push back Trumpism - A Modest Proposal for Nonprofits

The depressing inauguration and the uplifting Women's Marches are over. Now we face the future with its inevitable challenges, forecast in the chaos of President Trump's first weeks. There will be many challenges and they will come at us fast and furious: budget cuts, de-funding Planned Parenthood, the arts and humanities endowments, public broadcasting, scale back of environmental regulations, etc. The Trump administration will undoubtedly utilize a "shock and awe" strategy to confuse and catch opponents off-guard. It will be like the anti- missile technique in military aircraft, releasing many chaff targets (proposals to say nothing of tweets) to  divert accurate attacks and divide the opposition.

In November 2012, after the election that returned Barack Obama to the White House (ah, those calmer days!) I posted a blog entitled "Either Way You Get your Dog Back" urging readers to get to know their elected officials at all levels of government, heeding the late House Speaker Tip O'Neill's admonition that "All Politics Is Local." I repeat that today LOUDLY.

On November 6, 2018, a date just around the corner, all 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, 33 Senate seats, and 14 Governorships  will be up for election. Those should be the prime and ultimate targets for the ordinary citizen - the voter- who wish to set back Trumpism.  In the meantime, how to block initiatives that you find inimical to your beliefs and that injure institutions and programs you hold dear?

The answer is vigorous advocacy. Writing and calling legislators and attending meetings and rallies, joining your voice to those of others. Taking action, in other words, personally reaffirming your part and belief in our democracy.

The challenge is the many demands on your time from various organizations. suggesting means and content of sending messages, some of which  may be contradictory  I have a suggestion that might help. It is based on my belief that nonprofit boards and their supporters generally represent the best in their communities - people of substance and influence. To the extent that is true, how to harness that energy and civic strength in the cause of advocacy?

The answer can be found in organization and information. And so I propose each nonprofit board name what I would call, for the sake of this argument, an Advocacy Captain. This person or team would be responsible for the following:

First,  assess the interests and institutional allegiances of members of the board. Those may well include issues outside the mission of the organization on whose board they serve.

Then, based on that information, track the initiatives of the government that might have an impact on those interests and identify the legislative committees and executive departments that have the decision-making and/or oversight roles. It is important to discover the outside national groups that represent the specific interests  of local organizations. For instance, for a museum board,  it would likely be the American Alliance of Museums. Those national groups will already have much of the information needed in your own advocacy effort.

Finally, the Advocacy Captain needs to inform board members of the contact avenues for action intended to influence outcomes for their respective issues, as well as the most effective communication techniques. In the past weeks as the groundswell for civic action has grown there have been many helpful recommendations from, for instance, former congressional staffers, on how best to have your voice heard.

An inevitable question that will be asked: as a nonprofit can you engage in advocacy or, to use a more loaded term, lobbying. The answer is yes, with some limitations. What you cannot do, and what would endanger your tax-exempt status with the IRS, is to engage in a political campaign by endorsing or funding a candidate. Likely you have a lawyer on your board who should be consulted to provide guidance and peace of mind on the lobbying question..

But my "modest proposal" (no relation to J. Swift) is really directed at empowering individuals on your board, not necessarily the board itself as a corporate entity. It is intended to help those board members, as citizens and constituents, to become more effective advocates.

For advocates, whatever the issue, focus and stamina will be needed in the months ahead, supported by good and timely information. Try out the Advocacy Captain idea on your board. You might well find it welcomed. And recall from Shakespeare's As You Like It:

 “Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in every thing.” 

Comments on this and other blog posts to be found in the Archive to the left are welcome at: gplatt63@gmail.com