April 5, 2017; New York Times
The Trump administration, joined by Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, represents a potential threat to much of the federal budget, not to mention the possibility of changing or eliminating regulations affecting nonprofit causes. As NPQ noted recently, the president’s budget blueprint (the budget itself will be submitted to Congress later this spring) includes more than $50 billion in domestic program cuts and the elimination of many agencies supporting the arts, volunteer service, and educational research.
Tom Sheridan is a lobbyist who specializes in representing charitable organizations and causes, including organizations like Save the Children Action Network and the American Cancer Society. He observes that the nature of the threat faced by nonprofits is different. Traditionally, nonprofits have had to fight for increases in federal support or, at worst, fight against reductions in that support. “This isn’t a political threat, it’s life and death […] We’re not fighting ideology. It’s raw politics and a culture that is extremely new. Many are not equipped to handle it.”
Tim Delaney, President and CEO of the National Council of Nonprofits, says “There is a ramped-up harsh tone that’s generating fear that I haven’t seen before […] Hyperpartisanship is ripping our country apart. We have to bridge the divide and bring people together.”
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The different political landscape calls for different tactics than those used in the recent past. Instead of arguing in linear terms over the dollar amounts to be allocated to causes and agencies, it is now necessary for advocates to argue for the value and relevance of the causes and agencies themselves with people who either disagree with or don’t realize that value.
Unsurprising for a political operative, Sheridan sees opportunity in the current ideological divide playing out on Capitol Hill. Remembering lessons from the 1980s and disputes over AIDS funding, Sheridan says, “It taught me the airplane theory […] You need a right wing and a left wing to run an effective social change movement.” Arguments between far-right Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC) and provocative organizations like Act Up both upset the status quo and prompted people to focus on compromise between the extremes.
Mark Shriver, president of the Save the Children Action Network, an advocacy arm of the nonprofit group, says that their organization has been seeing promising signs of alignment in some states with GOP governors. His organization is now running ads praising New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu for a proposed all-day kindergarten program. This is a significant turnaround for the network, which ran $1 million in ads calling for Sununu’s defeat (by supporting his opponent) in the 2016 elections.
Fresh perspective, new arguments, seeking new and different alliances, and looking to states as well as the federal government for solutions may be the keys for nonprofits to survive and even thrive in the current political climate.—Michael Wyland
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect the correct figures for Save the Children Action Network’s expenditures in support of New Hampshire’s kindergarten initiative and its spending opposing Gov. Sununu’s 2016 election. We regret the error.