Bracing for Impact: How Nonprofits Can Weather Any Political Storm

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Bracing for Impact: How Nonprofits Can Weather Any Political Storm

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Tuesday, January 24, 2017 - 9:45am

By Emma Kieran

I was in the airport on my way home from a day-long meeting facilitation, and the guy next to me said, “Are you a consultant?” We consultants are a dime a dozen in the airport, and we’re easy to spot (You know the look: suit, computer on lap, phone to ear, plugged into the wall). I nodded, and he said, “What are you telling your clients about the change in administration? How are you helping them prepare?” He had no idea what kind of consultant I was, but it didn’t matter. The question is pertinent to anyone who works for or with organizations in for-profit, government, and nonprofit sectors. Every time the administration changes, organizations of all types face the same question: What do I need to do in order to be prepared?

In fact, many of my clients have been asking me the same question: What can they do to set themselves up for success over the next four years?

They’re right to be asking these questions. Nonprofits need to be poised to act. Regardless of your political persuasion, we can all agree that change is afoot, and some of the policy alterations that the new administration will enact will invariably affect nonprofits. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported last weekend that many nonprofits are worried that new policies will “affect the at-risk and vulnerable populations they serve.” Some organizations fear that their mission will no longer be funded, while others hope the new administration will embrace their cause. What’s true is that some changes might bring benefits; others may be painful.

Do these concerns sound familiar to you? Are you ready to face the inevitable change that is coming?

I’ve been thinking over the past three months about what I would do as an Executive Director or Chief Development Officer during a change in Presidential administration. It turns out I would do what I would encourage any nonprofit leader to do in any time of uncertainty:

  • Shore up your board: Are your volunteer leaders all in? Are they giving time, talent and treasure (i.e., money)? Are they helping advance your vision and mission? Do you need to add members? “Graduate” members to a deeper, more engaged level of commitment? 
  • Meet with your donors: Are your donors aware of your fragility? Do they support operating expenses or only restricted opportunities? Do they understand the realities of serving your mission? Talk about what’s true: good, bad, and ugly. Don’t hide. Instead, inspire participation. Ask them to join the fight.
  • Diversify your funding: We all know that 80% of charitable giving in the US comes from individuals, 15% from foundations and 5% from corporations. What does your funding mix look like? If you are heavily funded by the government, what are you doing to diversify to ensure sustainability? It’s important to review your long-term funding options, not just short-term.
  • Get out there and TALK: Share your vision and mission and why it’s important. What are you doing that other organizations and the government can’t do? What happens to the populations you serve if you can’t provide your services? Talk about why your approach is unique and effective. 
  • Hold fast to your vision: Strive for what you set out to accomplish every day. Let your mission drive your decisions and don’t stray. Be unapologetic about who you serve and why. Make your mission your mantra.

Change is inevitable. The questions that we are asking as Donald Trump takes office, after all, are the same questions we asked eight years ago when President Obama was sworn in. On top of that, the impact of these changes is uncertain. But with proactive planning, clear communication, and a renewed commitment to your mission, you can be ready for those changes this time AND next time Americans switch things up in the White House.

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