As the volume and rhetoric of election-year campaigning increases with every newscast and tweet, it’s easy to get distracted from the business of being leaders in the nonprofit community. No matter which party or ideology you subscribe to, one thing is certain: every four years we have a special opportunity to engage in public debate, give voice to the causes we represent, and plan for the future.
Connect with Your Donors and Make Your Case
It is easy to assume that many philanthropic gifts are redirected to political causes and campaigns during an election year. Political action committees clutter the fundraising landscape, and our email inboxes fill up with urgent appeals for $5 here and $100 there. Amidst this din, the mistake we make in our development work is pulling back from connecting with donors and, worse yet, refraining from asking for gifts. In fact, we must embrace the notion that donors look to us to provide them with meaningful engagement – personal conversations about issues that matter to them, and the opportunity to put their dollars toward solutions that make their communities better place to live and work. A busy election year is a great time to sharpen your case for support and place it in the context of local and national policy issues: “Here’s what people are talking about, here’s what we’re doing about it, and here’s how you can help.” It’s also a great time to remind people of the power of the “third sector,” an essentially American complement to the business and government sectors, and an engine of employment and innovation. Look to management guru Peter Drucker’s writings on the topic if you need some inspiration!
Evaluate the Candidates with a Nonprofit Litmus Test
In local, state, and federal races, we are asked to evaluate candidates based on their values, experience, and vision for the future. We can also learn a lot about a person by the company they keep. For these reasons, you might consider using a “nonprofit litmus test” to determine who will get your vote:
- Active in a faith community?
- Regularly volunteer for a food bank or other community group?
- Serve on the board of a think tank or service organization?
- Donate 5 percent or more of personal income to charitable organizations each year?
In candidate forums and in the blogosphere you can take this test a step further by probing a candidate’s view on the nonprofit sector. Do they see it as an essential partner in keeping America great, or do they view it as suspect and rife with corruption? We all will benefit from public officials who are willing to think about bringing different resources to bear in solving society’s problems – whether it’s job training, protecting wilderness, or treating the mentally ill.
Resist the Temptation to Stand Still
In an election year, some nonprofits become paralyzed by politics. A “wait and see” approach can creep into board discussions and key decisions, especially if their organization’s work is dependent on or dictated by public policy and funding. Instead, nonprofit leaders should commit to a “beyond the election” perspective – dream about the future, engage in contingency planning, update your strategic plan, and sharpen your program planning to ensure your organization is ready to overcome the hurdles and embrace the opportunities that inevitably follow a national election. Dream about the future.
Connect with your donors and make your case. Evaluate the candidates with a “nonprofit litmus test.” Resist the temptation to stand still. Bring these concepts into your staff and board meetings in the next month and make a plan of action for the year. There is never a better time to give voice to our sector than in an election year. Apathy is the enemy of hope!
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About the Author
Kate Roosevelt CFRE
Kate’s clients love her non-nonsense, yet flexible manner. She’ll tell it like it is, but will always go the extra mile to ensure her clients realize their goals.