How Florida’s Stop WOKE Act Impacts Nonprofits, Part 1
There has been a lot going on in Florida in the past month. I don’t mean the usual Florida Man versus alligator antics; I’m referring to actions that have much deeper ramifications. Companies, nonprofits, schools, schools that are also nonprofits, consultants and educators have been caught in a windstorm of confusion over the implementation of two Florida laws.
Though Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed both the Individual Freedom Act (opens as a pdf), aka Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees (WOKE) Act and the Parental Rights Education Act (aka “Don’t Say Gay”) into law in mid-2022, the state has been publishing guidance on what the laws mean, what is expected in terms of compliance and what the penalties are in the event of failure to comply.
In addition to Florida-based nonprofits, if your organization is headquartered in another state, but has employees in Florida, these laws may affect your nonprofit. For those who do not live, work or do any business in Florida, be aware that several more states are looking to mirror Florida’s legislation; you may be soon joining the bewildering world of implementing such laws.
The recent, big national headlines were due to new guidance on the Parental Rights Act from the Florida Department of Education that has teachers removing their classroom libraries under threat of being charged with a third-degree felony if unapproved books are found on their shelves. However, the Stop WOKE Act has more direct implications for the nonprofit sector.
Please note that nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice. In fact, most nonprofits should consult legal counsel to ensure they comply with the parts of Stop WOKE Act that apply to their organizations.
First, Progress in the Nonprofit Sector
Since 2020’s summer of protests surrounding the murder of George Floyd, the nonprofit industry has begun addressing issues surrounding diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Many have been working to understand the dynamics we’d created over time in a white-dominated sector, especially relating to the exclusion of people from various racial and ethnic backgrounds at decision-making levels.
We’d been operating inequitable workplaces for decades; policies, practices and interactions with donors have been culturally narrow. We’ve been learning to identify situations with inherent bias, unequal power dynamics and the serious lack of representation at leadership levels, including race, gender, gender identity and sexual orientation. The industry is grappling with its long-held practices of nonprofit leaders making decisions about what is needed in communities without actually consulting anyone within those communities.
It has been messy. Truth and change often are. We were seeing progress. Slow and sometimes uncomfortable progress, but progress nonetheless. But before the ink was dry on new policies meant to build a more equitable sector, the pendulum began to swing back. Why? Because it is unusual for people who hold positions of power to willingly start to share authority that once solely belonged to them.
So now we must focus on how nonprofits can comply with new laws. I believe most of us don’t want progress in funding for nonprofits led by people of color and work toward equitable employment, leadership, coalition building and mission delivery to stop, so our efforts will continue. But we also need to adhere to current laws so that we can stay in operation.
Then, the Stop WOKE Act
The smartest thing nonprofits can do is to educate themselves about the current law and associated directives coming from their governing bodies. That can be difficult because the guidance is disseminated slowly and is often vague.
Here are several resources:
- Florida state government
- Florida Nonprofit Alliance
- Your county’s League of Women’s Voters site
- The governing body that regulates your nonprofit, such as the board of education, or departments of children and families, agriculture or economic Opportunity.
The Florida Nonprofit Alliance shared some clear state-level guidance, which notes the act affects nonprofit employers — anyone employing 15 or more employees — that are located in, have operations in or have staff in Florida. According to the statute:
“Subjecting any individual, as a condition of employment, membership, certification, licensing, credentialing, or passing an examination, to training, instruction, or any other required activity that espouses, promotes, advances, inculcates, or compels such individual to believe any of the following concepts constitutes discrimination based on race, color, sex, or national origin:
-“An individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.
-“An individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, bears responsibility for, or should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of actions committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex, or national origin.
-“An individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment to achieve diversity, equity, or inclusion.
-“An individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, bears personal responsibility for and must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress because of actions, in which the individual played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex, or national origin.”
You can see why I recommended seeking legal counsel to ensure that your nonprofit’s actions are following the law as it stands at any given time.
Let’s take it down to the county level, so it becomes clear that nonprofits should also monitor their local elected official meetings with the expectation that more regulations may be coming our way.
This example is planning information from the Manatee County special work session on Jan. 5. I’ve highlighted a few documented priorities the commissioners, in their own words, laid out:
- Rid county of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and other insidious programs.
- Examine county memberships and their programs; ensure employees are not participating in DEI and other “woke” programs some of these organizations are pushing.
- Human Resource (HR) training needs to be updated.
- Review county investments to make sure they are not invested in “woke” ventures.
- Address issues with county libraries posting “woke” ideology.
- Reevaluate grants and be sure they are going to appropriate organizations.
Focus on Information Over Fear
One can see how, from these examples (to be clear, the state examples are established law, the county examples are in the planning stages) that nonprofits could easily inadvertently go against ever-changing regulations. This is especially true given that many nonprofits have spent the last few years updating employment, board, investment, partnership and program delivery policies to be more diverse and equitable. Organizations are now in the position of having to undo policies they’ve recently put into place.
What happens in the political realm almost always has some effect on the nonprofit sector. Many organizations are directly affected because they are partially funded by local, state or federal grants. Additionally, the need for specific types of services is affected by the ebb and flow of which political party has majority control.
The Stop WOKE Act, however, means that some nonprofit organizations that have had almost no interaction with government agencies will now need to keep close track of new regulations and guidance and should likely evaluate their current actions to see if alterations should be made to be in compliance, such as the rule that DEI training for staff cannot be made a condition of employment.
Some citizens, organizations and sectors will work to negate the Stop WOKE Act and other legislation like it. In the meantime, erring on the side of caution is good for your nonprofit status.
The preceding blog was provided by an individual unaffiliated with NonProfit PRO. The views expressed within do not directly reflect the thoughts or opinions of NonProfit PRO.
Tracy Vanderneck is president of Phil-Com, a training and consulting company where she works with nonprofits across the U.S. on fundraising, board development and strategic planning. Tracy has more than 25 years of experience in fundraising, business development and sales. She holds a Master of Science in management with a concentration in nonprofit leadership, a graduate certificate in teaching and learning, and a DEI in the Workplace certificate. She is a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE), an Association of Fundraising Professionals Master Trainer, and holds a BoardSource certificate in nonprofit board consulting. Additionally, she designs and delivers online fundraising training classes and serves as a Network for Good Personal Fundraising Coach.