Is There Any Silver Lining? Nonprofits and the New Administration
It has been months since the changing of the guard in the Oval Office. It seems that every day has been filled with some potential legal blow for those of us in the nonprofit world. Take your pick—it could be the move to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the placing of the Environmental Protection Agency on virtual lockdown, repeal of transgender restroom equality or threats to block-grant Medicaid that will impact quality of life for many people with disabilities. Let’s face it, we are living through some gloomy times.
That said, perhaps we should pause and ask ourselves, “Is it really all bad?” With every new presidential election comes an opportunity for change. It is our job, in part, to ensure that changes have a positive impact on the people we serve and the organizations where we work.
Below are some areas where the new administration may actually provide nonprofits with an opportunity for positive change. On the really rough days, keep these points in mind:
1. Government Reform
Nonprofits often operate with dysfunctional systems in government, and must align and optimize their programs and services to access governmental funding streams that are poorly implemented. Many voters on both sides of the aisle were trying to send a message that the whole system needs an overhaul. Incremental tweaks over time may not be a sufficient solution. Imagine what could be done if the billions spent on poverty programs could be redesigned and invested in job-training programs and good-paying jobs? While tearing down institutions (and funding streams that we have become reliant on) may be painful in the short-term, if nonprofits are active and engaged with the new administration, we could shape how institutions are rebuilt with greater community empowerment, innovation and insight.
2. Cities and Rural Areas
Strong engagement by the nonprofit community can help shape new investments in rebuilding these areas to ensure these communities are empowered and strengthened, not displaced. Looking at the electoral map, it is clear that rural areas voted overwhelmingly for Trump. Bringing jobs to rural areas is a top priority. Nonprofits in rural areas face significant challenges in funding, transportation and ability to
develop sufficient scale to deliver services in sparsely populated regions.
3. Fewer or Less Stringent Regulations
Nonprofits—especially in the health and behavioral health, human services, child welfare and disabilities fields—are often faced with tough regulations that govern the minutiae of how services are delivered, rather than rewarding organizations for successful outcomes. As a result, people being served are hitting multiple roadblocks and have difficulty navigating to access services, and nonprofits must spend scarce resources on an army of financial and compliance staff. Some nonprofits are getting unannounced inspections 20 times or 30 times a year, wasting taxpayer dollars.
Requiring strict adherence to evidence-based practices is squeezing out the heart of charitable work where people make human connections and walk people through their challenges—with faith, spirituality, love, creativity and innovation. Republicans often favor deregulation and streamlining. If nonprofits are involved in the deregulation process, we could create a system that truly puts people first, is more efficient and effective, and rewards organizations for succeeding with people.
4. Favored Causes
There are certain causes Republicans tend to favor. For example, George W. Bush significantly expanded support for faith-based organizations and famously accelerated treatment for AIDS. Importantly, nonprofit leaders must regularly remind policy-makers that nonprofits are a critical part of the private sector. Nonprofits employ 10 percent of the nation’s workforce and are a far larger employer than agriculture, construction, finance, insurance, real estate or wholesale trade.
What can nonprofits do to ensure that our voice is heard on these and other important issues?
• Review any organizational rules concerning lobbying. If we cannot lobby, we can certainly outreach to and educate those in power.
• Strive to find points in common or “middle ground” when speaking to potential funders.
• Speak out against laws, regulations and proposed deregulation that may negatively impact your clients or consumers.
In short, this is no time for nonprofits to be silent.
Jamie Ray-Leonetti, Esq. is a staff attorney with the Philadelphia-based Disability Rights Pennsylvania. She is also a regular contributor to NonProfit PRO, writing the Legal Matters column.