By Rob Meiksins, CEO
So, yeah. Life just changed. Whether you like our new president or not, whether you voted for him or not, Donald Trump is now everyone's President-elect. Life just changed for us who work in the nonprofit sector. So now what?
I've been trying to keep my ears open as I move around town and talk to people in the sector. But it's almost like people are holding their collective breaths and waiting. It's like that moment in the movie when you know something is about to happen, but you don't know what, so the whole audience sits, eyes glued to the screen, waiting to be scared. That's the theme here: the scary unknown.
Yesterday I was talking with the board president of a nonprofit in the health field. For them, the call to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act represents a potential sea change — and worse, a tidal wave. If it is repealed, they don't know how many people won't be able to afford health care anymore, and how people will pay for the care they need. He envisioned hordes of uninsured people swarming the local clinics seeking free or low-cost. Munch’s painting The Scream comes to mind. It's all an unknown, and for many people, the unknown is scary.
I heard the same thing from people who work in nonprofits providing social services and education for youth. They don't know what's going to happen now: Is public education dead in the water? Will we go totally choice and charter? That's probably overstatement for effect, but still — the unknown is scary.
For me, the big scary unknown is whether much of the nonprofit sector's funding is at risk: Government represents the second largest source of income for nonprofits nationwide, according to a report published by the Urban Institute (cited on the Foundation Center's Grantspace website). It makes up 32% of nonprofit income. Will we start seeing government funding for nonprofits dry up as government is shrunk in size and taxes are reduced? That's a scary unknown for me.
So now what, nonprofit Milwaukee?
Here are some ideas:
1. Volunteer: Our Volunteer Milwaukee program staff tell me they're getting lots of calls from people who are shocked and dismayed — and feel the need to get involved in their community more than ever before. They’re worried for people who are less fortunate, worried that the support programs will be in danger. They feel they have to roll up their sleeves and get to work. For them, the scary unknown serves as a call to action. If you’re one of these people, if you feel like getting involved, go to our Volunteer Milwaukee website and connect yourself to a way to help.
2. Put volunteers to work: If you work at a nonprofit, this is an opportunity to get more work done. Tap into the surge in residents' desire to do something to help — create more ways for volunteers to pitch in to advance your mission, and post those opportunities at the Volunteer Milwaukee site.
3. Become an advocate for what you feel is important: We can't sit back and wait for the wave of the scary unknown to happen. Get out and talk to your local, state, and federal legislators about the issues you care about. Tell them what you think is important. Then tell them again, and again, because they may not hear it the first two times. Sign up to get emails from websites alerting you when your phone calls or letters will make the most difference. Numerous sites exist for all political perspectives; moveon.org is one example, with a Democratic perspective.
4. Organize a volunteer project for your company or community group. To get information about group volunteering opportunities join NPC's Business Volunteer Council, or contact Debbie Knepke.
5. Join the conversation. One way to get rid of the scary unknown is to start articulating what we're afraid of. Put it on the table and talk about it. An acting teacher I knew in New York City had a phrase: it's not scary territory, it's unfamiliar territory. Let's turn the scary into the unfamiliar. Let's plan for the future. Do some visioning about what might be coming at us based on what we know of the people who are going to be making decisions about our country for the next few years.
Let's talk. If you're an agency exec, join me for a conversation, The Nonprofit Sector Under A Trump Presidency, on December 14, early in the morning. It's free - learn more and register here.
As NPC finalizes its budget for 2017, we need to hear from you about what's going on in your world, so that we'll understand what we need to do to help you. The discussion on December 14 is a great time to do that, so please participate!