[As Black History Month draws to a close, we would like to share this thought-provoking piece from our 2017 conference morning speaker, Sean Thomas-Breitfeld, co-director of Building Movement Project. It originally ran in 2014 and is reprinted with permission.]
This past week, an article about Black History Month by Theodore Johnson in The Atlantic really moved me. Johnson writes that our focus on historical icons makes this month of celebration too disconnected from people’s everyday experience. I share his concern on a personal level but as someone with a particular focus on organizations, I also worry that our tendency to present Black history through the lens of “extraordinary human beings” obscures the importance of groups of regular people coming together, creating community and establishing the infrastructure needed to not just make change but defend and sustain it. There’s another way to tell our history and understand progress – through the lens of collective stories, shared leadership, and the slow, steady march toward justice.
You’re probably so busy that you don’t have time to read this post. But, please stop multi-tasking and resist the pull to check your phone.
I have an important question: Lately, when you walk into your non-profit job in the morning, what’s the first feeling that hits you?
If your answer was some variant of “stress,” you’re not alone. According to the World Health Organization, stress causes 300 billion dollars in lost productivity each year for US businesses due to absenteeism, reduced productivity, and employee turnover. Over 75 percent consider it to be a major concern; half aren’t taking vacations; and half are looking for new jobs.
Non-profit employees are certainly no strangers to workplace stress. Whether your organization is large or small, your employees are likely to wear several hats. You may wear at least 10 yourself, from running board meetings to changing toilet paper rolls. But even big-hearted, tolerant, non-profit staff have a breaking point.
The Center for Non-Profits has been surveying the New Jersey non-profit community at least annually since 2001 to gauge the effects of the economy, funding and programmatic trends, and other issues in our field. This year’s report, New Jersey Non-Profits 2017: Trends and Outlook, based on the responses from 300 organizations, reveals familiar themes as well as some new concerns and opportunities.
On May 4, President Trump signed an Executive Order declaring the executive branch’s goal to “vigorously enforce Federal law’s robust protections for religious freedom.” Of particular interest to the broad-based charitable community is a provision that purports to make it easier for religious institutions to engage in partisan political speech and electioneering – activities that are prohibited for 501(c)(3) organizations under the “Johnson Amendment.” (Another provision concerns whether insurance companies must cover contraception for individuals if their employers opt out for religious reasons.)
The President’s Executive Order is likely to face legal challenges from a variety of organizations, some of which reportedly are already in the process of preparing their legal filings. But in the meantime, what does it actually say, and what does it mean for 501(c)(3) organizations? Arguably, it says and means both nothing and everything simultaneously.
Volunteers are so much more than unpaid workers. They are advocates spreading the word, donors bringing in funds, marketing agents advertising events and the foundation supporting the organization’s long-term goals. All non-profits should have a designated staff member overseeing the recruitment, development and retention of volunteers.
Building a strong volunteer team will increase the growth and success of any cause based organization. Here are five impactful and easily implemented practices which will boost your volunteer department outcomes.
Proposed “Johnson Amendment” repeal would harm 501(c)(3)s
by Linda M. Czipo
Since 1954, tax law has contained a provision prohibiting 501(c)(3) organizations from directly or indirectly attempting to influence the election or defeat of any candidate for public office. This ban, also known as the Johnson Amendment for its sponsor, then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson, applies not only to churches, but to all 501(c)(3) organizations.
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.
Because of the frightening steps taken by some to exclude certain groups of Americans — minorities and the poor — from voting this election, it’s never been more essential for the leaders of the nation’s nonprofits to urge all Americans to go to the polls.
On November 8 voters across the country get to decide who fills 5,920 state legislative seats along with 93 statewide offices such as governor (12 to be elected), attorney general (10), and secretary of state (eight). Each officeholder can make a significant difference to nonprofits, as can the thousands of local city, county, judicial, school district, and special district officials up for election in November.
Those races are especially important to nonprofits, given the dysfunctional gridlock in Congress. The main policy action affecting the work of nonprofits and foundations will continue to be at the state and local levels. Nonetheless, the mainstream news media will continue to focus on the presidential election and races for 34 U.S. Senate slots and 435 Congressional seats.
What’s at stake for the future of our communities?
The full report lays out in detail the ups and downs experienced by non-profits during the previous year, and their outlook for 2016. Here are the major highlights, based on the 311 New Jersey non-profit respondents from late January/early February 2016:
Nearly three-quarters of responding organizations reported that demand for services had increased during the past year.
Nearly four-fifths expected demand to continue rising in 2016.
Only two-fifths reported receiving more total funding in 2015 than in 2014, but nearly two-thirds reported that their expenses had increased during the same period.
Over one-third (35%) reported that expenses exceeded support and revenue during their most recently completed fiscal year; the proportion was even higher (44%) among larger organizations, those with annual budgets of $1.5 million or more.
Seventy percent expected their total expenses to increase in 2016, but fewer than half (47%) expected total 2016 funding to increase.
If you’ve seen our previous surveys or if you work regularly with non-profits, these findings may sound like variations of a familiar theme. You may even think that they’re better than during the worst of the recession – and that’s true. But if you care about the well-being of the non-profit community and non-profits’ ability to provide vital programs and services, these numbers should generate deep concern.
There is a good deal of discussion in both the for-profit and non-profit communities about the importance of an organization’s brand. When you have a well-established name you are able to effectively and efficiently differentiate your group and build a loyal following. Think about some well-known brands, like Ben & Jerry’s (community commitment); Disney (extraordinary family fun); Peace Corps (global support for the world’s vulnerable); or America Reads (volunteers for literacy). In each instance, the organization has promoted a brand that resonates with its audience and generates an immediate emotional reaction.