A Way Forward
The phones are ringing, people are stopping by, and emails are piling up. It could be just another day at the office, but that’s not what I am hearing or seeing. Instead there is urgency. There is commitment. There is pent up energy that wants to do something – and they are turning to you. In this post-election landscape, there is energy. If we could bottle it and store it until we had more time, more capacity, or more understanding, that would be ideal – but ideal is rarely our nonprofit reality.
I have said many times since this election that perhaps the only certainty in this new landscape is the focus we can bring to our work. Your missions did not change. Your values did not change. You knew the work before, and you know it now. Regardless of how you voted, your work is clear. For some that is our greatest fear and for others our greatest hope. That is what this election did in many ways – it brought to the surface both of those extremes. What it also did was create an intense call to action to dive into our work, to give and to engage in a deeply personal hands-on-the mission kind of way.
Since 9/11 and the entry of the Millennial generation into the workplace, Americans have shifted their nonprofit philanthropy and volunteerism. They now demand participation along with their giving. The words “engagement,” “impact,” and “meaningful” now are required.
Fast forward to today and our phones ring more, the requests are pouring in. What is your response? Can you seize the moment? Can you engage people? Can you give them real work that allows each person to touch the mission in a meaningful way?
For many of you, the true answer is “no.” The current reality is that you are understaffed administratively and in fund development and volunteer coordination. Many reasons exist for lack of staff. Perhaps the one we battle most is the myth that overhead is not mission and therefore can’t be staffed. But whatever the reason, the results are the same. We simply do not have a system to engage donors or volunteers in a meaningful way or even to return a phone call. And, frankly, for some of us, we don’t even know what to do when someone with amazing skills shows up at our door and says, “I’m here to help.” This is not to say that we don’t want to act. I know most of you do – and you want to for many reasons.
The good news is that organizations are checking in to get suggestions on ways to shift and take advantage of these opportunities. Some call because they know that one-third of volunteers are likely to become donors if we treat them with respect and create meaningful connection – or they know that great volunteers become loyal board members – or they recognize that to keep the organizational gears moving they need energy and commitment beyond those already on the team – or simply and proudly they know that their mission is changing lives and improving communities and it’s a gift to be a part of that experience.
So in this complicated world of civic engagement, we have a person ready to take action, an organization ready for support, or at the very least wanting support, and nonprofit leaders (board and staff) who can help connect the two.
The next steps are up to you. What follows are actions you can take ranging from personal, to professional, to political. I encourage you to take a step forward. You will know which step is right for you.
Possible Personal Action Steps:
- Walk with your feet and volunteer for the causes you care about. Know what you can offer and connect that offering to the goals of the organization. Prepare to take initiative rather than expecting it to be easy. (See notes above for why this is so important.)
- Donate consistently to good causes. Support civil society. Think about the grassroots organizations run by and for people of color and of different faiths than you. Show your support at a national level AND at a local level. Encourage the national organizations to lift up the local ones.
- Use language with purpose. Remember that words have historical and political context. Use them with care and with intention.
- Educate yourself. Seek truth and do not abandon facts in favor of sound bytes. Know our collective and individual history in this country. Read from a wide variety of authors, learn American history from our museums and from your fellow Americans and then travel if you can and connect to people and history in other countries.
- Take responsibility. Notice signs of injustice and intolerance. Get Green Dot training (greendot.org) and be prepared. Know how you will respond in any given situation. If you feel safe, extend safety to your friends and to strangers. People around you, people you know, and people in your community who you don’t know are scared. Find ways to show kindness.
- Practice self-care. The best supporters are supported. Find your team, your fun, your renewal, and your energy to continue to be an effective volunteer and advocate.
Possible Nonprofit Leadership Action Steps:
- Be clear about your organizational values. When you know you are, you can plan where you are going.
- Prioritize the ability for you and your organization to engage with current and new donors and volunteers. What can you do to make the pathway to engagement more accessible?
- Reach out – form new organizational partnerships to find better solutions to the challenges we face at the community level. The more diverse the voices at each table, the stronger the result – every time – without exception.
- Issue a statement about your position on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Be clear. Don’t assume your stakeholders know your position.
- Commit your organization – including your board – to playing a role in public policy. Position yourself as a partner to government. Budget for it. Plan for it. Use your voice.
- Create and receive support. You are working very hard already. For many of you, you are feeling your own sense of urgency. There is no better moment than now to get support. Ask for help. Get training. Find a mentor. Engage a friend. Find/create a circle and invite new people to it.
- Know when to say “no” and say it. Find the space to focus, to strategize, to take time with your board and staff team. Taking that time will mean saying “no” and it is worth it.
Possible Political Action Steps as a Nonprofit:
- Prioritize and be an effective advocate. Know what will create mission success and understand the role that government leaders play to get there. Help them find a clear definition of success in their language, i.e. programs are cost effective, they save government money, they achieve greater results, they create strong partnerships. Don’t ask them to interpret your language – use terms they relate to in order to forge new ways to benefit Alaska communities.
- Hold our government partners and ourselves accountable to strengthen all Alaska communities.
- Understand the relevant regulations at all levels of government that have an impact on your work. Determine which regulations, policies, and laws are hindering your work and which are helpful to achieving maximum results. It can be a complicated process, but that’s no excuse not to spend time to understand the impact on your mission.
- Map out your funding strategies. Many nonprofits are uncertain about support from all levels of government. Most nonprofits will be affected either directly or indirectly. Engage your board and your staff in articulating the impact government has on your work.
- Use data strategically and combine it with compelling stories. “Stories not just statistics. Feelings not just facts.” Know your data, know your financials, have your story.
- Join us as we show how the nonprofit sector is a vital partner in making our communities work. Highlight the role we play in the economy. We are part of the solution, not the source of the problem. Together we can be clear about the strength of our sector.
Each of these lists can get longer each day. Did we get your ideas flowing? Which step will you take next? Will you pick one from each list?
We are listening, and we want to know. What is on your list? How is it different? What will you do next?
There is energy. There is willingness. How will you answer the call?