by Linda M. Czipo
In the wake of last week’s 2016 presidential election, there is clearly a high degree of uncertainty, speculation and concern across the country. It would be foolish and presumptuous of me to pretend to have any great wisdom to offer as we embark on this new chapter. But like most everyone else, I’ve certainly given it a lot of deliberation. So I humbly offer a few thoughts, some professional and some personal, as we move forward – with advance apologies that this might be a little disjointed.
On the professional:
The work that non-profits do remains more important than ever.
Non-profits are often the backbone of communities, providing programs and services that make communities good places to visit, live and work; employing members of the community; and providing training and education that helps people find and keep jobs. Non-profits are also often the first, last or only source of help for people in distress.
We’ll know more in the coming weeks as appointments and proposed policies take shape, but one thing is certain: the people that rely on us need our voices, our advocacy, our programs and our protection. This was the case before November 8, and it’s just as true now.
We cannot become paralyzed, numb, or complacent.
Society needs a strong non-profit community. Unfortunately, regardless of which candidate had won November 8, New Jersey’s chronically under-funded non-profits were already facing challenging times ahead. As non-profits, we need to continue to work together as the problem-solvers we are. And for 501(c)(3) non-profits, we need to be non-partisan.
The action is still (mostly) in the states.
To be sure, a lot can and will happen when the new administration takes office in Washington, and it’s vital to stay on top of it. But as we and our friends at the National Council of Nonprofits have noted before, much more legislation and policies get enacted at the state level than in DC. Keep your eyes on state and local developments, and partner with other organizations active on the issues that are important to you.
In New Jersey, election season isn’t over.
In less than a year, we’ll be electing a new governor, and all 120 state legislative seats will also be contested. There’s a lot at stake here – arguably even more than in the federal elections – so get involved.
- Know what you and your organization can do (it’s a lot!) – and what it can’t.
- Understand your rights to advocate and lobby – and USE them.
- Know the differences between public policy education or advocacy, which are permissible for 501(c)(3) organizations; lobbying, which is permissible within certain (fairly generous) limits for public charities; and partisan politics or electioneering, which is prohibited for 501(c)(3) organizations.
- Get your board to champion advocacy as a core part of your organization’s mission.
- What you can do personally and what your organization can do (or what you can do under its auspices) are not the same thing. Know the boundaries and be sure to keep them clear and separate.
- The Center for Non-Profits can provide or connect you to more information to help you navigate these rules.
History is with us. Non-profits have been at the forefront of some of the most important social advances in our nation’s history. It takes courage, work, stamina, and perseverance, but together, we will prevail.
On the personal:
Keep an open mind and open line of communication.
As we try to bridge the gaps that threaten to divide us, it seems almost trite to say that communication is critical. But constructive communication is about quality and not just quantity, and about listening as much as (or more than) talking. We need to engage in dialogue in ways that recognize our own frames and honor the perspectives of others.
People vote, or don’t vote, for many different reasons.
Especially in areas where the vote may have been decidedly in favor of one candidate, it’s tempting to assume that everyone you meet voted the same way or based on the same motivations. Don’t. In these fractured times, there’s also an alarming tendency to ascribe the worst qualities of the candidate we didn’t support to every person who did. Don’t paint everyone with the same brush.
Verify before you share.
Some of the greatest strengths of social media are also some of its greatest dangers. Through social media, we can find fresh, unfiltered views, news and ideas, and spark dialogue. But social media can also fuel and magnify the worst vitriol, exacerbate anxiety and negativity, and transform rumors, misconceptions and myths into perceived truths. The changing media landscape has also caused some in the news business to prioritize being first over being accurate. Be skeptical and double-check what you see and hear.
Take occasional breaks from social media.
While social media is an incredible way to stay connected, it can also heighten anxiety and stress and reduce your focus and productivity. Stepping back can help you to recharge your batteries and regain perspective.
Take occasional breaks.
Listen to music. Enjoy your loved ones. Play with the dog. This is going to be a bumpy ride and we need to stay strong, physically and mentally, for the road ahead.
There’s a lot more to talk about, and much more to do. We’ll be jump-starting some of these conversations at our December 7 conference. And in the next few months, the Center for Non-Profits will be convening “town hall” gatherings to talk about the issues that we as a society, a state, and as non-profits, face.
We hope we’ll see you at one or more of these events in the coming months, and that you’ll let us know what you’re doing. Please keep the lines of communication open. We stand ready to move forward with you.
Linda M. Czipo is President & CEO of the Center for Non-Profits, New Jersey’s statewide umbrella organization for the charitable community. Through advocacy, public education, technical assistance and cost-saving member services, the Center works to build the power of New Jersey’s non-profit community to improve the quality of life for the people of our state.