“Nonprofits Brace for Big Changes Under Trump Administration.” “Progressive Foundations Brace for Trump Administration.” “California Endowment Commits $25 million to Fight Trump Changes.” “Advocacy Is a Battle Cry as Nonprofit Leaders Convene After Trump Victory.”
These are just a few of the hysterical headlines that have appeared in the Chronicle of Philanthropy over the past few weeks. While college students have fled to safe spaces, Hillary Clinton supporters have dyed their hair and dumped their boyfriends and celebrities are plotting their moves to Canada, the leaders of nonprofits and foundations are readying themselves for battle.
Literally. Emmett Carson, president of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, compared the Trump administration transition period to the Revolutionary War.
“We’re trying to figure out if it is ‘one, if by land, or two, if by sea.’”
According to the Chronicle, “Some foundation leaders have taken immediate measures, such as freezing discretionary grant-making budgets so they can hold money in reserve in case grantees need to shift their tactics.” In case you haven’t noticed, this is an emergency, folks.
Some of these foundation bureaucrats have remained calm. Though that may only be because they’re deluding themselves. Julia Stasch, president of the MacArthur Foundation, says she feels confident that her organization is prepared for the upcoming changes. But she also thinks some of the proposed changes — in the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid, etc. — may not actually go through.
If a Trump administration does in fact usher in cuts in federal funds for social services — though it’s not clear that it will — one might think that the nation’s philanthropic leaders would take that as a cue to spend more to make up for the gaps they think will occur.
But that doesn’t appear to be the plan. At the annual meeting of Independent Sector, one of the largest gatherings of nonprofit leaders in the country, the panelists just wanted to turn charities into lobbying firms. “Foundations could and should be more aggressive on the advocacy front on the issues they really care about,” Ellen Alberding, president of the Joyce Foundation, told an applauding audience.
Brian Gallagher, chief executive of United Way Worldwide, widened this message beyond foundations to nonprofits generally: “If you don’t have a policy strategy, then you don’t have a mission and purpose.”
America’s nonprofits have plenty to occupy themselves without developing policy strategies. From providing better education to low-income kids to helping people fight drug addiction to finding cures for debilitating diseases to saving endangered species, America has the largest and most diverse civic life of any country on Earth.
There are ways these endeavors will be affected by public policy, but that doesn’t mean each organization needs to become a political player. Those who support such charities probably believe it’s their job to pursue their mission regardless of the political environment.
But the folks who run philanthropy are so angry about the results of the election they don’t know what to do with themselves. Caleb Gayle, a former program officer at the George Kaiser Family Foundation, wrote an op-ed last week for the Chronicle arguing that the philanthropic sector shouldn’t spend more to make up for gaps in government funding.
“It should instead exercise strategic restraint,” he wrote.
Gayle is unabashed about his plan to put partisanship above helping people. “To many foundations, it might seem cruel to resist calls to spend more . . . But if grant makers start to far exceed the 5 percent annual minimum, they will validate the conservative desire to strip money from government antipoverty measures.”
Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face. So you won’t help people in need because it might prove conservatives right? In the long list of people who have lost their minds over Donald Trump’s election, nonprofit leaders might be closest to the edge.
Naomi Schaefer Riley is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.