A Nonprofit Moral Imperative: Action in the Face of Social and Political Polarization

The last two years should serve as an alarm bell for nonprofit organizations across America that work to meet the rapidly expanding needs of disenfranchised and marginalized communities, particularly those of color and immigrant populations. Since 2016, we have seen our nation turn away from one that enjoys and celebrates the economic and social prosperity that comes from diversity into one that has enabled and empowered the racist and bigoted subculture, that has never really disappeared, to rear its ugly head. This nationalist movement is one that favors walls, division, xenophobia and intolerance over love, acceptance, inclusion and community.


            Those of us that live in or work in these communities, which have, perhaps, worked for years to advance equity, inclusion and compassion, are seeing how the hate-filled rhetoric is affecting our people on both perspective sides of the issues. This administration threatens the very progress we have made as a society -- as a people -- in its opposition to issues that are critical to our ability to survive and thrive. Issues that have been led by the social sector such as climate change, health care, immigration, gender and marriage equality, preservation of national parks and resources, and support of the homeless and impoverished have been disregarded and, in most cases, rolled back, to fuel the expansion of the military industrial complex, dirty energy and crony capitalism.


            But who are we as change makers if not resilient and courageous? In my new book, ‘Your Greatest Good: How to Change Yourself to Change the World’, which will be available for pre-release in September 2019, I call out resiliency as a critical characteristic for accomplishing and sustaining positive change of any scope, scale, or focus. I define it as the toughness necessary to “persist in spite of roadblocks, setbacks or challenges that impedes your path forward.” It is more than just adapting well to a changing environment; it is the ability to maintain forward momentum in the face of adversity. There is no greater adversity to us as shepherds of the greater good than the forces of our own present administration. We will need to be resilient and acknowledge the current state, adopt an unwavering resolve that life is meaningful, and exhibit the courage to act. And that is exactly what it will take. Action is what has always been required to bring about large-scale transformative change. As a nonprofit, socially driven, or healthcare organization, it is morally imperative to advocate on behalf of those you serve, though few actually do so effectively, if at all. Most, giving the benefit of a doubt, are cornered into inaction by fear of operating outside of the guidelines of their tax-exempt status.  Others are afraid of speaking in opposition to the views and beliefs of their largest donors and supporters. While no decision should ever be taken lightly, the mission and, perhaps more importantly, the purpose, of the organization must be the primary catalyst for action. If your mission is to serve the under-served, to enact social change, to preserve the environment, to combat climate change, to address poverty, hunger, or homelessness, then your organization and its funding is in the cross-hairs of policy makers in the executive and legislative branches of our federal government. Funding, the life-blood of the social sector, is being eliminated or drastically redefined at the very moment I type these words.

But funding alone is not our most vital resource. We are. We the People. As organizations that serve a higher purpose, we rely on partnerships and cooperation with local businesses and governmental agencies because we recognize the correlations between health outcomes and livable wages, housing stability, educational attainment and civic engagement. We understand that our own success is inextricably linked to the ability of those we serve to survive and thrive. And the only way we can ensure continued and increased opportunities for our constituents is to work together, to communicate and to advocate, loudly and clearly, on their behalf. This is permitted, and critical for all nonprofits, no matter what tax-exemption status you hold. Advocacy includes any activities that elevate the voices and demonstrate the needs of your community. They may include organizing, civic engagement, public education, policy research, publishing white papers and/or opinion papers, and coalition building. Collaboration is the single most powerful tool we have as nonprofits to leverage the abundance of resources around us, unite our similar efforts, and develop actionable plans to achieve common goals. Nonprofits have been at the front lines of the fight for social equality and change in this country for many years, and now is as critically important time as ever to stand for those that cannot stand on their own, to speak out for those whose voices go unheard, and to continue the good fight.     

James R Scheu, Founder & Chief Innovations Officer, nLab Concepts