This article first appeared Jan. 19, 2017 on the Chronicle of Philanthropy website,http://philanthropy.com. It is reprinted here with their permission.
As the country prepares to inaugurate Donald Trump as our 45th president on Friday and leadership at all levels of government takes shape postelection, nonprofit executives and board members across the country are asking themselves some important questions:
While these questions provide an excellent starting point for conversation, the mistake that many board members and others will make is to assume that their next step should be to begin preparing themselves to accept whatever changes new leadership will bring.
Don’t make that mistake.
Our missions are far too important to sit on the sidelines while critical decisions are made. The people who depend on us need us to do more. They need us to engage. They need us to educate. They need us to organize. And, yes, sometimes they will need us to fight.
They need us to advocate.
For the past two and a half years, BoardSource has helped lead the Stand for Your Mission campaign, which has worked to educate nonprofit organizations — in particular, nonprofit board members — about the importance of their leadership as advocates and ambassadors for their missions.
Now, in this moment, that’s exactly what we need from our board leaders.
With a new balance of power at the federal level, a dramatic shift in the presidential policy agenda, and large-scale domestic spending cuts already promised, nonprofit leaders need to be prepared for potentially rapid and significant policy and funding changes at the federal, state and local levels. And we need to make sure that our voices are heard before those decisions are made.
Here are three important things for boards to do:
Assess your new reality. If you haven’t already, you should have a conversation in the boardroom about the range of potential opportunities and threats that your organization could face. For example:
Now more than ever, nonprofit organizations need to have a deep understanding of their organizational values: what you are as an organization, what you care about, and why. This goes much deeper than defining your mission or advocacy agenda and is about the fundamental principles that guide your organization’s decision making. This is important because when the ground is shifting and changes in our external environment are moving quickly, there’s not always time to put together a formal strategy or to thoroughly discuss the pros and cons of a position or stance as a full board. In those moments, executives need to be able to rely on a shared understanding of organizational values and move forward with the confidence that they are acting in a way that is consistent with the organization’s, values, not just their own personal ones.
Boards should contemplate:
Outline advocacy priorities and help make them happen. New leadership may mean that your organization’s policy priorities have shifted, or they may remain exactly the same. Regardless, a new set of players in any leadership body means new power dynamics, and nonprofits cannot take anything for granted in terms of public support — whether that support is financial or policy-related. That’s why board members should:
The Stand for Your Mission campaign has never been about partisanship or a particular political view, nor is it about advancing any policy agenda. It’s about a fundamental understanding of the role of nonprofits in society, what our work means to this country and the people we serve, and how all of that is affected by the decisions our elected officials make and the policies they enact.
So as we enter this next chapter in our country’s leadership, let’s make sure that our elected officials know exactly who we are and what we stand for.