What Nonprofit Leaders Can Do in the Wake of the Election

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Nov 16

Bailey Disher

What Nonprofit Leaders Can Do in the Wake of the Election

by Bailey Disher

The past week has brought a lot of uncertainty about how a Trump presidency will affect justice, opportunity and equity in our country - and the nonprofit sector that fights for those values.

Whether you work to support social justice, human rights, health care, or the environment, one thing is clear: our work to create better lives for our communities is more important than ever. Here are a few things you and your organization can do right now to stay on track in this rapidly changing environment.

1. CARE FOR YOUR COMMUNITY

Express care for your staff and the clients you serve, especially those who are hurting or fearful of what the future will hold for them. Whether you lead a staff of one or a thousand, this is a moment to reaffirm the inclusive values of your organization.

  • Reach out. Remind your staff that intolerance will not be accepted in the culture of your organization. If you’ve already done this in an email or a meeting, keep it up. If you serve the public, affirm your culture of tolerance to the people you serve.
  • Practice management by walking around. Check in with your staff informally. Let them know you are there and interested in how they are doing. Listen. Let them know that you have their backs.
  • Thank your staff individually and collectively. They work hard. Everyone in the nonprofit sector is about to be working harder. Tell them how proud you are of who they are and what they do.
  • Don’t retreat. Even if you feel despair personally, offer hope to your team. In a New York Times article, President Obama reportedly told his staff: “You don’t need hope when things are going well. You need it when things are not going well.”
  • Connect with the people you serve more than ever before. If you work in a large organization, sit in on programming. Chat with clients. Hear how they are responding to the election. Consider a client open house. Mission comes first. Stay closely connected to the mission of your organization.

Life has given you this leadership opportunity. Take this moment in the history of our country and your organization to exemplify the leadership qualities you most admire.

2.  FOCUS ON INTERNAL EQUITY

Nonprofit staff are on the front lines of serving marginalized communities, many of whom were deeply affected by the hateful and intolerant language that characterized this election. As nonprofit leaders, we are called to respond to this divisiveness by continuing to be a beacon of hope to the communities we serve. In doing this work, your nonprofit staff will draw strength from the values and the mission of your organization.

  • Reflect on your values. What work do we need to be doing to ensure that our workplace truly embodies the values and mission of our organization? How can our organization better support staff and the communities that we serve who are marginalized by race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or other factors?
  • Have this conversation internally. Involve people at all levels, from board members and staff, to the communities you serve. If we want our staff to promote justice and compassion out in the world, then we have to first cultivate a supportive and healthy environment within our organizations.
  • Stay open to to feedback. This work will almost certainly bring up some uncomfortable truths. Stay open to engaging with these issues and the possibility that there is work to be done. Discern opportunities to learn, build, and grow.
  • Adopt an annual equity assessment and training. Consider offering nonviolent communication workshops as a professional development opportunity for your staff. Commit to revisiting this conversation every 6-12 months.

3.  BUILD COMMUNITY & MOBILIZE

More than ever, this is an important time to build community and mobilize. Whether it is a rally or an office cohort, bringing people together around the causes we care about must become a priority. If your organization focuses on advocacy, this is a great opportunity to dial in – and if not, this is a moment to bring your community together.

  • Stay informed. Consider forming one or multiple action groups to meet regularly and discuss ways to stay informed and engaged in response to this changing landscape. It is important to think beyond the immediate time period to ensure that momentum can continue sustainably.  
  • Assess your communications. Now is a good time to ensure that communications with your donor base and supporters are effective. If there is space in your newsletter to share information about community issues and policies that will affect your work, do so!
  • Take action. Develop a plan to mobilize your donors, constituents, staff, and board around specific actions they can take in support of your work in the community. Are there community events to attend? Are there federal, state, or local legislators to call about a specific policy that will affect our sector? When the time comes to act, highlight the urgency and how it’s related to your mission and values. Make instructions clear and easy to follow.
  • Think creatively about community building. How can your organization facilitate change around its causes? Are there other organizations you could partner with to increase your effectiveness? Think about the resources you have available to you as an organization and how you might be able to apply them. Take this as an opportunity to think beyond business as usual, and prepare for the fact that the challenges ahead will require more collaboration than ever before.

4.  PRACTICE SELF-CARE

Self-care is often talked about within the nonprofit sector, but it is especially important to consider in this new environment. Since workloads and stress levels are likely to rise, it will be crucial to be intentional about how we take care of ourselves and each other. We can’t do the important work of helping others if we aren’t helping ourselves first.

  • Feel your feelings. This is an incredibly difficult time for many of us. Do what you need to process your own feelings and work through them. Seek out counseling. Mindful breathing and meditation are also helpful for reducing stress levels. And, as always, get plenty of sleep.
  • Be intentional. Focus on what you can do now. On the team level but also the personal level, there will be a continued sense of existing in discomfort. It’s important to acknowledge this and pace yourself. Try focusing on one or two things you can do each day to make progress on issues you care about.
  • Be mindful of your news and stimulation intake. Consider taking a break from social media and being intentional about how you consume your news. It is important to stay informed, so consider dedicating specific time blocks in the day to catching up, and use the rest of the time for a self-care activity.
  • Reach out to your network. More than ever it’s important to be with people, in real space and real time. Whether it’s having lunch with a coworker or reaching out to friends, think of ways you can cultivate community. Isolation can make us vulnerable in difficult times, so it’s especially important to be intentional about fostering connection.
  • Listen. Keep in mind that caring for and holding space for others can be a form of self-care. If you have the capacity, listen to other people’s experiences and feelings. Ultimately, we are all in this together and are better off when we lift each other up.

This may seem like a lot to do on top of the mission-centric work that’s always on your plate. And it’s easy to feel paralyzed in the face of all this hatred and division. But our sector is about to experience a collective acceleration, the likes of which we haven’t seen before, which will make our work more necessary than ever. Even accomplishing one of these steps can make all the difference for your community and affirm that your organization is a trusted resource during difficult times.



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