It is hard to ignore the political and social debate at the national level under the new administration. We have given a lot of thought to the role of philanthropy and the nonprofit sector in light of the significant changes in leadership and governance at the federal level. As policies relating to the role of government are reviewed, what is the role of philanthropy in the national discussion? How will charitable giving be affected? How will vulnerable and underserved communities fare? Regardless of your politics, it is clear we are in an uncertain environment when it comes to issues of importance to many donors.
Many interested in philanthropy have carefully considered how to respond, if at all, to these changes. Below are some strategies we have developed to assist donors with whom we work. There is no “right” or “wrong” approach, so we hope this will begin the conversation. While some donors may choose one specific strategy, many will likely choose a combination of these strategies at various times over the coming weeks, months or years.
- Continue to focus on your current priorities. Many donors have a clearly defined set of giving priorities. They often develop these priorities over time to support: organizations in whose mission they strongly believe; to support leaders in whom they have confidence; and/or to support a set of strategies that have proven particularly effective for the scope and range of their giving. Donors may choose to double-down with the organizations and issues about which they care most. Particularly if those issues are ones likely to be affected by changes in federal policy, donors may want to calibrate their giving accordingly.
- Respond to urgent needs. In uncertain times, there are bound to be urgent needs that emerge at a moment’s notice, to which donors wish to respond. In cases of natural disasters, they are for urgent relief situations. In the face of immediate changes brought about by new federal policies which may affect services or practices for underserved populations, donors may step in to address urgent and time sensitive needs, campaigns or events.
- Respond to long-term or slowly emerging needs. Many donors are motivated by urgency to meet current needs in real-time. Longer term needs take time to unfold. For example, the process by which the federal budget gets proposed, vetted by Congress, approved and allocated is lengthy and involved. Allocating funding to the states from federal programs takes even more time. Reserving a portion of your giving budget for medium and long term needs can help insure that the nonprofits a donor supports will be at the table for the long-haul.
- Explore new strategies. Sometimes continuing “business as usual” is not sufficient to meet the perceived escalation in need among many in the nonprofit sector and in vulnerable communities. This may mean giving to new organizations. There are also strategies to achieve your charitable mission that go beyond cash contributions. These include loans, program and mission-related investments, and creation of alternative giving or action vehicles (for-profit companies, advocacy organizations, or others).
- Support advocacy. Many foundations and donors shy away from funding advocacy around a particular public policy goal. There are limits to the types of advocacy in which certain philanthropies can engage or support, and donors should consider those limitations when examining the role of advocacy and policy work in their philanthropy. Despite that, donors are exploring how to use their voices in new ways to help achieve their vision of social good.
- Continue to educate yourself about the issues and how government works. Many of us have a working knowledge about the governmental process, including how bills become law and how federal and state governments allocate public resources. But we could likely use a refresher on many of these issues. Take the time for a Civics 101 refresher. Study modern American history. Make sure you know how government at the local and state level works, and understand the interplay between our national and local levels of government. Go to resources you trust on the issues you care most about.
- Participate in government. Setting politics aside, informed voters and advocates yield informed policy. Every citizen can make his or her voice heard. Interacting with your elected officials in a respectful and constructive manner is a hallmark of our democracy. You might even consider running for an elected office yourself. Attend a public forum held by your elected officials, go to a town committee meeting, and observe government firsthand.
Being deliberate about your charitable giving, and making decisions about where you can have the greatest impact is not a one-time event. Revisiting and evaluating your strategies is always a good practice. In changing social and political times, it is even more important. Donors can make a difference, and having a well-developed and strategic approach to giving in unsettled times will extend the impact and reach of your giving.