Are you hearing, as we are, many Americans – and even nonprofit leaders - express uncertainty, and even foreboding, about the future? That’s because nonprofit leaders who’ve kept their eyes on the horizon see unsettling times ahead. At the federal level, no one is sure whether promised – yet unspecified -- federal tax reforms will stimulate, or stymie, overall charitable giving. At the state level, significant budget deficits in half the states create even more unease, especially since demands for services provided by nonprofits are not magically going away. Because financial resources will continue to be scarce, it will be of paramount importance in 2017 for nonprofits to pay attention to the basics, such as personal relationships with donors, cash flow, and working “smarter, not harder.” Not unlike the pre-flight safety video tells us, “Put your oxygen mask on first, so you can help those in need.”
To help your nonprofit buckle down for what promises to be a wildly turbulent year ahead, the National Council of Nonprofits has been ramping up both (1) our federal policy work on sector-wide issues so it parallels our network’s state policy work, and (2) our capacity-building guidance on core leadership capacities that matter to all charitable nonprofits: fundraising, governing, and operating your nonprofit legally, ethically, and effectively.
We just published a look at federal issues that we expect will be significant for ALL charitable nonprofits. We encourage you to read and share “Nonprofits Need to Stand Together to Push for Smart Public Policies” with your board members and other stakeholders. In the post we underscore that there are at least six issues receiving scrutiny in the new Congress and new Administration that will affect ALL charitable nonprofits, so we all need to be ready to stand up to defend nonprofit missions. And of course, if you are looking to put that oxygen mask on, you can rely on the Council of Nonprofits’ national network of state associations of nonprofits for expertise with fundamental capacity building assistance, such as preparing for leadership transitions, educational opportunities for board members, peer learning cohorts for staff members, and guidance on very important best practices that will be so key in the months ahead.
Lead with your values
From coast to coast, state associations across our network have opened this new year with a consistent message, encouraging nonprofits to respond to anticipated challenges by leading with core values.
On the East Coast, the CEO of the Nonprofit Coordinating Committee of New York, Sharon Stapel, urges NPCCNY’s members, “To address the yet unknowable, we must look to our values to determine the types of issues that will ground our work in 2017. At NPCC, we value the diversity of the nonprofit sector, the work for equity that our members are engaged in, and the ability of nonprofits to work independently, fairly, and with true representation in all areas of our society. We also believe that nonprofits are, and must continue to be, the voice for their communities. With these values as a lens, we will be watching legislative, policy, and public discussion that could affect our members, and we will be prepared to respond in order to promote and protect our values and your work.”
Moving to our country’s center, Dan Billingsley, Vice President of External Affairs at the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits, stresses the importance of policy work, reminding nonprofits, “If you are not at the table, you are on the menu." Dan’s message that “the charitable community is only as strong as the public policies that support our missions” gets you thinking about all the ways nonprofits can be “at the table” to ensure that state and local policies reflect core values and support those we serve.
On the West Coast, CalNonprofits’ new year message calls for a strategic nonprofit stance towards the incoming Trump administration, noting that many nonprofits are taking a much broader view than simply focusing on their own particular issues. CalNonprofits urges, “This is a time for nonprofits to expand our mission thinking, not narrow it” and to ask the questions: "Who is our community, and what do they need us to be doing right now? What are the values our community needs to see us standing up for?" Along with practical suggestions, CalNonprofits reminds us all that the nonprofit community is in a position to put values into action to solve problems, rather than simply wring our hands.
Then, moving further to the north, Laurie Wolf, the CEO of The Foraker Group, the state association of nonprofits in Alaska, emphasizes the importance of distilling your focus to your nonprofit’s True North -- “your core purpose and values.” We couldn’t agree more and encourage you to recommit in 2017 to your nonprofit’s mission, organizational health, and core values. Without this focus, “the center does not hold” -- we are weak. But together, led by our values, committed to our individual missions, and lifting up what all charitable nonprofits have in common, we can be strong. That strength will be essential on behalf of those we serve as we face the challenges ahead in 2017.
The future of fundraising
This past December was the fifth year of #GivingTuesday, and by all accounts the global day of giving produced a strong showing of support for causes of all types. It may be hard to imagine, but not too long ago charitable giving was limited to cash, checks, or in-kind gifts – there was no such thing as “text to give,” or “crowdfunding,” and few websites were configured to accept donations. Now, the future of giving is right in our hands – or more accurately – in our mobile devices. Donors and nonprofits are embracing this future. However, generosity is unfortunately being held hostage by outdated state regulations that not only add administrative costs to fundraising, but also are confusing. Antiquated state laws that have failed to keep pace with technology and reality erect unnecessarily burdensome barriers to charitable giving are not in anyone’s best interest.
The National Council of Nonprofits and our member state associations of nonprofits listened when nonprofits expressed concern about the increasing lack of clarity about where to register. We know that nationwide information about fundraising regulations is hard to find. That’s why we’ve worked with Harbor Compliance to produce this new unique guide that offers background on the overall process of state charitable solicitation registration requirements. We hope the guide will help you navigate the existing maze of state laws that regulate fundraising registration requirements. We also hope that you will join your state association of nonprofits and be an active voice in efforts to update and streamline state laws that regulate how and where nonprofits can legally ask for contributions.
Resources for Strengthening a Nonprofit's Core
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