Protecting Progress In The Trump Era

01/05/2017 11:14 am ET Updated Jan 05, 2017

When Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, I had a lot of questions about the implications — What will this mean for the people and causes I care about? What will it mean for the nonprofit organizations who serve our communities? What will it mean for the grantmakers who make up the GEO community?

Mind you, Grantmakers for Effective Organizations is not a political organization. We have never commented on politics before. Yet given our commitment to a strong nonprofit sector -- one that embraces diversity and fights for equity -- we couldn't stay silent during a change in presidential leadership that holds the potential to destabilize the organizations and causes that GEO's members support. Things that were once apolitical have become political as a result of Trump's rhetoric and his choices of who to surround himself with as he enters the White House.

The signs are already clear. Uncertainty about nonprofits' financial future is widespread. Some nonprofit leaders are feeling personally at risk given the campaign promises to deport undocumented immigrants, limit the rights of Muslims and curtail equal rights afforded to LGBTQ people. Many are preparing to pivot to a defensive posture — attempting not to lose ground rather than working to continue to gain. Others are gearing up to help their staff and their communities deal with the effects of trauma.

Uncertainty about the future, itself, can be debilitating.

One benefit of having been on sabbatical during the election is that several sector leaders who I admire have already provided sage analysis and advice. Vu Le's piece in the Chronicle of Philanthropy and Darren Walker's note to Ford Foundation stakeholders both helped me. So what can we as grantmakers do to support each other and the organizations and leaders who may be feeling a high degree of uncertainty or vulnerability?

  • Reach out to those you fund. Now is the time to reach out to hear firsthand the fears and concerns of the nonprofits you support and to make it clear that you're open to hearing what they need to navigate these waters. Try to understand who is most vulnerable, marginalized or threatened in this new context. One GEO member who knew his organization wasn't able to issue a formal statement spent the entire day after the election calling every one of his grantees. He said it was a real eye-opener and helped him understand what those they fund will actually need in the coming months and years. You may also be well positioned to create space for nonprofits in your community to come together and process the implications of the new administration for their constituents. You can read more about building these relationships here.
  • Provide flexible, reliable support. In a moment of volatility, the best gift we can give is to let key grantees know that we're not going anywhere and that they can rely on our support for the foreseeable future. We can double-down on providing flexible, reliable funding so that they can react and respond to a changing context. This will help counteract some of the financial vulnerability they are feeling based on uncertainty about where their work falls in terms of federal priorities. You can read more about the importance of flexible funding here.
  • Support advocacy and community mobilization. Providing voice to those who are at risk and pushing back against policy priorities that will undo social progress is a vital role that some nonprofits have long played. These organizations are going to need more and deeper support to pivot and succeed in this new context.
  • Connect with peers. A feeling of connectedness and community helps us deal with our own anxiety about the future and we hope you find exactly that in the GEO community. GEO members can join me for a member call about the election results on February 1 or February 2 or submit a question to GEOList today and tap into the wisdom of our community.
  • Reach out to the GEO staff. Whether you want to process what's going on, don't know where to start in looking for resources or want advice on who else in the community to connect with, the GEO staff is here to help. You can always get in touch with me at enright@geofunders.org or 202-898-1842 and I'll hook you up with the right person here to help.

The value of close colleagues and a strong community is most clear during times of uncertainty. This is the place where we can get the support we need to move ahead. When we talk directly about our concerns with trusted peers as well as reach out beyond our immediate networks to hear new voices, we're best equipped to make progress together.

I hope to hear from you soon. We'll continue to lift up examples from the community to help inform your path as you respond to the new national context in which we find ourselves.

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