We have now had a month to adjust to the reality that Donald J. Trump will be the next president of the United States. We have never had a candidate that is as unpredictable and unfathomable as this one, and the prospect of a Trump presidency has nonprofits and social enterprises scrambling.
There are a few specks of good news. We recently had #GivingTuesday here in the United States, and donations reliably came in (I love that thousands of Planned Parenthood donations were in Mike Pence’s name). In addition, there are lots of reports of increased volunteering and engagement across the country. Scott Hartl, president of E.L. Education believes there will be a short-term boost for nonprofits and social good organizations: “values-based philanthropic organizations will activate strongly and there will likely be more rather than less support available for progressively minded non-profit work.”
Positioning for a Stronger Future
However, beyond the momentary panic donations (yes, I donated to the Southern Poverty Law Center on November 9) and upswing in activism and engagements, nonprofits and social good organizations need to plan for an uncertain and potentially rocky road ahead. In addition to the uncertainty, organizations are also facing an impending leadership vacuum, multiple changes in funding avenues, and very likely a significant increase in need. Bleak, yes, but here are four things you can do now to position your social enterprise for a strong and positive future. As Sarah Dudzic of MoveUp!, points out:
Our greatest challenge is going to be maintaining programs and services during a time of shifting priorities and waning public funds; But therein also lies our greatest opportunity. As the public safety net is compromised, the private non-profit sector has the opportunity to strengthen collaborations, improve systems, and work collectively to support the vulnerable and disenfranchised members of our communities.
Revisit core identity and messaging
There are so many reasons to be clear about your organization’s core identity. We coach our clients to be absolutely clear on three questions:
Why do we exist?
Who do we serve?
How do we help them?
Knowing the answers to these three questions helps clarify purpose, create more compelling messaging, and perhaps most of all, unify staff members. When facing challenges and turmoil, these are important factors in survival. As William Schambra writes in the Nonprofit Quarterly, “successful organizations will respond to the widespread sense of unsettledness and uncertainty by creating for their members and clients a new sense of community, belonging, and higher purpose.” They do this by being very clear with the answers to the three questions above. It also allows organizations (like the Heinz Endowments, The Pittsburgh Foundation, The Ford Foundation, and many others) to directly address the concerns of their constituents and remind them of the core mission.
It may seem crazy to advocate for increasing capacity in the face of the unknown. While it would be lovely to think that nonprofits and social enterprises can respond to turbulent times by insuring they have the staff and resources to address the pressing issues of our time, budgets were already tight and will only get tighter. And given that many nonprofit leaders are contemplating leaving their current positions, capacity will indeed be an issue in the near and medium future.
What I am talking about is investing in the staff you have now. Insure they have the support and mentorship to take on increased responsibility. If you don’t have the skills to mentor them in certain areas, pay for someone to offer coaching on a short-term basis. Send them to conferences and encourage them to apply to give presentations. I know they have too much on their plates already; help them figure out what they can get rid of. The time invested in developing your in-house capacity will pay off in the end. As Vu Lee notes in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, “When our communities are hurting, the right response from foundations is not to hunker down and save for a rainy day.”
Now is the idea time to look around for fellow travelers. Who else is in the same space as you and could be an asset? Who are the unlikely partners? From the Nonprofits With Balls blog:
Nonprofits are starting to share offices more, which reduces operating costs. We can go further by exploring creative strategies such as sharing finance, HR, and other staff…We have to work more effectively with the other sectors to protect our vulnerable neighbors. They can exert tremendous influence—a sports team threatening to pull out of a city in protest of an oppressive policy, covered by the media, for example. We need to build relationships with our friends in the other sectors, not just as donors and sponsors, but as strategic partners to protect the progressive gains our society has made.
These partnerships can also include partnerships with funders, other organizations, and for-profit entities.
Open Lines of Communications
Some organizations are using their blog and social media platforms to reach out to their constituents and others. As Pete Panepento points out over on Kivi’s Nonprofit Communications Blog, “As nonprofit communicators, we should see the election’s result as an opportunity — and challenge — to take time to listen thoughtfully to those who have different perspectives. It’s an opportunity to learn about their motivations and their pain and look for shared goals.”
If you do this, be prepared to listen. Too many nonprofit communicators are only focused on content creation and don’t pay enough attention to the conversation. Reassure your audience and then listen to their thoughts and concerns. Having a clear idea of mission and message makes this significantly easier. SocialFish has a great blog post about how associations are managing this.
Charting the course
What will you do to avoid the rough waters and insure smooth sailing? There are may challenges ahead but a few opportunities as well. As Lynette Zimmerman points out on The Impact Tap:
“On the plus side, there could be a long-lasting benefit for the entire philanthropic sector. This election has brought many people out of the shadows and compelled them to engage with the issues they care about the most. Volunteering is up along with donations. By creating a greater culture of generosity and philanthropy, this new philanthropic age could translate into greater overall engagement in the years to come.”
What are you planning for your organization? What will be the keys to your success? Please comment below or find me on social media.