Nonprofit staff members, board members, volunteers, and donors: we have been quiet for too long. Today, right now, is the time for you, personally, to make noise and say something to your US Representative and two US Senators. Lives, livelihoods, communities, and your nonprofit are at risk.
At this moment in time, we—individually and collectively—face four existential crises in the United States:
- An uncontained pandemic is killing people—more than 155,000 so far. In six months, we’re already closing on triple the loss of US troops in the Vietnam War. Based on current trends, the death toll could rise to more than 200,000 by the November elections and pass 300,000 by year’s end. Unthinkable body counts here are the worst in the world, so bad that other countries have been locking us outside their borders.
- A deepening economic calamity graver than aspects of the Great Depression, with the GDP plunging a record 9.5 percent, a $2-trillion loss, for the second quarter; 54 million-plus people having filed for unemployment benefits since the outbreak; and about 30 million people now losing $600 per week in benefits because the White House and Congress could not agree on terms for extending the expiration date. An estimated 23 million people are now at risk of being evicted.
- Racial inequities that have taken lives and destroyed or limited others to such a degree that anything short of a nationwide reckoning is willful disregard of the truth.
- Insidious partisanship that’s ripping our country apart when, even during a dire, officially declared “national emergency,” our federal government can’t or won’t act.
We deserve far better from our elected officials and ourselves. But until we demand far better and take action, these crises will only get harsher. The challenges are frightening, yet we cannot afford to freeze like deer in headlights or hide in a cave. It’s time to be nimble, bold, and connected.
But what can we possibly do as nonprofits? After all, nonprofits are largely “just” small to mid-sized organizations, separated by geography, fragmented by different missions, and barred from partisan campaigns for or against candidates for public office.
Just follow the advice of Arthur Ashe: “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”
Our starting point, as noted above, is a set of interwoven and enormously complex national emergencies.
What do we have to use? We have power, but only if we use it by taking action together. We may look small individually, but collectively, charitable nonprofits employ more than 12.3 million people (the nation’s third-largest workforce), with paid staff augmented by more than 64 million board members and other volunteers, supported by tens of millions of donors. We may be spread apart geographically, but that embeds us deep in every congressional district and state. We may feel isolated advancing myriad missions, but that puts us in touch with people in every aspect and walk of life. We may be prohibited from participating in partisan politics, but we legally can advocate and petition our government. Thus, when we each separately contact Congress with the same policy priorities, we can collectively roar and wield tremendous power for the common good.
So, what can we do? There is much to be done. But right now, time truly is of the essence. So, let’s focus on what must be done today: Advocate.
Use the power of your voice. Right now. Congress and the White House—at this very moment—are negotiating what goes into the last piece of coronavirus-related legislation until after the November elections. Unless you immediately contact your own US Representative and two US Senators to insist on what goes into the final package, relief your nonprofit and hundreds of thousands of others need could be pushed off the table because others spoke up in your silence.
Solutions with strong bipartisan support exist for nonprofits, but the Senate bill leaves out most and the House bill does not contain all. (See comparison chart.) Without that relief, thousands of nonprofits—perhaps including those you care most about, upon which tens of millions of people rely every day—may not survive. And millions of people outside our nonprofits, the people we serve, face even more severe consequences: possibly losing their homes and having a mark against their credit for the rest of their lives; suffering from hunger because they don’t have enough money to buy food; or, of course, the risk of death or lasting injury from the novel coronavirus. That may sound harsh and brutal. But those are the facts. You, personally, hold the power to make a difference for millions upon millions of people.
Here’s what is needed. In the time since the pandemic exploded in March, an ever-growing coalition of nonprofits has been working together on solutions that would help most nonprofits sector-wide. More than 4,000 nonprofits from all 50 states recently signed the new Nonprofit Community Letter, urging Congress to enact four sets of solutions (summarized below), because “Charitable organizations must have additional resources to provide vital services essential to individual and community wellbeing.”
- Continue Emergency Funding Programs by enabling a second round of Paycheck Protection Program loans and appropriating funds for federal grant programs to state and local governments that depend on nonprofits to deliver services to the public.
- Extend Loan Programs to Mid-Sized and Larger Nonprofits with more than 500 employees, because the CARES Act largely excluded them.
- Strengthen Charitable Giving Incentive by expanding the above-the-line charitable deduction in the CARES Act from $300 in 2020 to about $4,000/individual in 2020 and 2021 so the incentive is universally available to all Americans, not just the wealthy.
- Provide Full Federal Unemployment Coverage for self-insured (reimbursing) nonprofits by increasing the federal unemployment insurance reimbursement from 50 percent to 100 percent of costs.
And here’s how to use your power most effectively: Contact your federal officials in this o