What does the Trump era mean for progressive and liberal non-profits? The appointments of Stephen Bannon and Reince Priebus to the Trump Administration indicate a feared dark turn away from governing for “all America.” Donald Trump’s short list of cabinet nominees sounds almost nuclear level warnings and represents the ushering in of an era where U.S. commitments to human rights, social justice, reproductive health and rights, climate change, democracy, sustainable economic development and multilateralism will likely be eviscerated. If all this isn’t enough, add to it that a Trump Administration, supported by a Republican-dominated Congress, is likely to enact tax changes that may become an obstacle to philanthropy. For a non-profit leader who has devoted her career to these issues, the looming questions now are: What do we do? How do we act?
Liberal and progressive non-profits should scale up as much as possible since the sector needs to be more vigilant than ever before. Along with the media, we need to be watchdogs for justice, equity and inclusion as we deal with a government that is hostile to such principles. This role for progressive non-profits has long been recognized and is already reflected in the spontaneous and unprecedented surge of individual donations to organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, the National Immigration Law Center, the International Rescue Committee and Muslim Advocates.
In the Trump era, non-profits should rise to play an even stronger leadership role that is focused on collaboration, organizing and strengthening movements. We need a powerful civil society to counter what our government may do. As more progressive non-profits rise up to lead, I see four core principles that should drive these organizations.
Principle #1: Lead with Vision and Courage
Progressive non-profits should focus on a clear articulation and inspiring vision of where they want to go and what they want to achieve. Lead with inspiration. In divided and dark times, communities and stakeholders need a resonant and affirmative vision to energize them for the long haul.
Principle #2: Lead with People-centric Values
Non-profits should put people first by speaking about how their mission improves the lives of a range of communities and addresses their concerns. A people-centric approach also means listening to, and learning from, the movement and community to which each of us belongs so that we can find new allies and more common ground. Focusing on people includes valuing the talent in our midst and ensuring that our organizations truly live into the values of diversity and inclusion that we so passionately espouse.
Principle #3: Lead with Focus
To achieve their goals in politically divisive times when several issues which an organization supports maybe under assault, progressive non-profits will have to make difficult choices about how to focus their work. Even if enormous additional talent and financial resources should flood into some of the anchor institutions in our sector, a relentless focus on the top priority concerns will be necessary. This is often hard for even the best of non-profits to do given the need to deal with the shifting interests of donors as well as an unstable political climate.
Principle #4: Lead with Resilience and Adaptability
As many non-profits adjust to these changing and volatile times, building resilience and adaptability will be key to success over multiple years. An organization’s ability to withstand unexpected change can be greatly improved by ensuring strong governance, financial stability, experienced leadership and open communication with key stakeholders.
These four core leadership principles reinforce one another and provide a powerful foundation for non-profits as they scale up and deal with the Trump era. As liberal and progressive non-profits rise to be ever more powerful visionaries, they will shape our future for the better.
This is the first in a four-part series on how liberal and progressive non-profits can successfully navigate the Trump era.