Did the ACLU take your donors after the election?
One question asked of me more and more in the recent months is how the election is shaping charity. How can we, the local nonprofit doing what might be considered “non-essential” work—arts organizations, independent schools, small service organizations—compete with established national organizations that have a renewed relevance? How do we go toe to toe with the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, the International Rescue Committee?
The 2016 US President Election changed the landscape for charitable contributions. That’s an undeniable fact. It overturned established order in the United States across the board. In particular, it mobilized a groundswell of grassroots efforts. More than ever, people are putting their money into third sector solutions, looking for help in applying pressure to the public and private sectors.
So, yes, the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, the International Rescue Committee and others saw an uptick in donations in the last quarter. Often a huge increase as many donors went into emergency spending. I would not expect that to persist at quite this level for the next four years. I do think they’ll continue to have a prominent place in many donors’ minds (and their checkbooks) for that time.
You, the smaller nonprofit with a local or regional focus, may well have seen a decrease in donations at the same time those national organizations were seeing record contributions.
But did the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and the International Rescue Committee take your donors away from you? The answer to that is, unless you provide the same services as those organizations, probably not.
Because they weren’t your donors.
A donor who, when faced with an emergency, chose to redirect their charity from a local organization they have a giving history with to a national organization they had no history with was not that local organization’s donor. Not in real, practical, terms. They were not a partner in the work. They were unconvinced by the case for support that the organization’s mission was worth funding.
It’s a mistake to view that as the success of the ACLU, or Planned Parenthood, or the International Rescue Committee in attracting those donors away.
That’s a failure in not convincing those donors to stay.
This election, and many of the donors who have been most called to action by it, put a high premium on grassroots efforts. If that’s the narrative takeaway, then how can it be that large national and international nonprofits hoovered up those donor dollars from grassroots nonprofits? If you’re a nonprofit, your job is to effect change. Your job is to overthrow the established order, to take people’s complacency with the way things are and blow it up.
The question you should ask yourself is not, “how do we compete with huge nonprofits?” The question should be, “Why is it that our donors didn’t perceive our work as vital, even in an emergency?”
Then go and tell them that you’re vital.
Because you are.
Yes, the election left me gobsmacked.
But this is no time to act like a deer in the headlights. Hundreds in my community and across the US are already thinking and planning to prepare to act strategically.
You don’t have to be for or against the incoming administration to recognize that a lot is going to change.
As a board and strategy consultant, I’m troubled that very few of the boards with whom I’m working are talking about planning for scenarios that might be heading their way. While front line advocacy organizations are already moving forward, I’m not seeing discussions happening in very many other sectors.
I understand that there is considerable uncertainty. I recognize that it might feel like a waste of time to talk about the unknown.
But isn’t that your job as a governing board? Shouldn’t you be considering best case, worst case and starting to prepare a plan of action? Haven’t you enough evidence of the policy changes that are likely to be made to start planning for those changes?
Your board has a lot of thinking and planning to do.
Need an example? We’ve already in a profoundly new world order. Jobs are vanishing fast, not necessarily because of global trade, but because what can be automated will. And there are very few jobs that can’t be automated.
What does this mean for your clients? What about your donors? Your community? Your employees?
Here’s another: How is the shifting landscape of philanthropic giving affecting your organization, where the rich are giving more and the rest of everyone less?
And the big one: What policies have the new administration and the majority party been championing over the last eight years or eight months? How will that affect us?
If there was every a time for both strategic and generative thinking, it’s now.
When the proverbial sh*t hits the fan, it may be too late to mobilize a satisfactory response.
- I’ve felt that way at least three times before in my voting life. But yes, this one seems completely different. Having been a member of Amnesty International for more than four decades, I’ve read the stories on how democracy can be lost seemingly overnight.
“A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway.
“True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring”.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., from “Beyond Vietnam” Riverside Church April 4, 1967.
I’d like to recognize all of our clients for their service, remembering that “everyone can be great because everyone can serve.”
On this holiday, I’m also sending a very special note of gratitude to our clients, past and present, who work tirelessly to end or reduce poverty, homelessness, war, injustice.
- Brookline Community Foundation
- Center for Southeast Asians
- Connecting for Children and Families
- The Diaper Bank
- Dorcas International Institute of RI
- Genesis Center
- George Wiley Center
- Grassroots International
- Gray Panthers of Rhode Island
- House of Hope CDC
- KIDS COUNT RI
- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center
- National Diaper Bank Network
- Progreso Latino
- Plan International
- Plan USA
- Project Renew
- Providence Plan (New Roots Providence)
- RI Coalition for the Homeless
- Rhode Island Foundation
- RI Family Shelter
- Senior Agenda Coalition
We’ve been composting yard and kitchen scraps almost as long as we’ve lived in our house – and that’s 26 years. We keep a bin in the kitchen where we toss the inedible vegetables and other non-meat scraps (though I do recycle shellfish shells) for the composter. This last year, Jon set up a worm composting box so we’ve been sharing scraps with them.
“Support & Strengthen the Safe Chemicals Act”
“For example, one provision would allow new chemicals on the market without having to meet the new safety standard. If ensuring consumer confidence and protecting public health are top goals in this reform, this needs to be fixed in order for the final bill to be truly protective of American families.
Click here to take action today by asking your Members of Congress to co-sponsor and strengthen the Safe Chemicals Act.”
Today is International Women’s Day. “Equal Rights, Equal Opportunities: Progress for all” is the theme of this year’s commemoration.
From our vantage point here in the US, it can be easy to forget that many women around the world experience profound discrimination every day without protection of law. And millions of girls and women experience rape, domestic abuse, genital mutilation, and other forms of violence against women, regardless of where they live.
If you are at a total loss for an action to commemorate this day, you can add your voice to a petition being circulated by Amnesty International USA asking the United Nations to develop a stronger agency for women. You can find that petition here.
” … Our only hope today lies in our ability to … go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal opposition to poverty, racism and militarism …” The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
It’s hard to be hard-headed about giving to Haiti when people are hungry, thirsty and injured. But before you reflexively hit the DONATE NOW FOR HAITI button on the first email (or text message) you see, take a moment to consider your own values. Even in emergencies, perhaps most of all in emergencies, it’s important to try to give in ways that can help to avert similar disasters in the future.