2 min Read
March 7, 2017

Talking politics: How can nonprofits join the conversation?

Changes in America’s political environment are raising a lot of questions for nonprofits. How is the community we serve impacted by the new administration? Are we going to need to scale back any of our programs? Will any of our grants be cut? The list goes on.

While you’re working to answer these questions internally, you’re probably also answering them externally. How do you respond to a donor who wants to know how the newest cabinet appointee will affect your work? Should you send an email with your organization’s reaction to Trump’s most recent executive order? Often, you’ll have to tackle these situations on the fly while you seek out alignment internally.

What exactly to say and when is challenging to navigate, so let your mission guide you. How directly affected by the political environment is your mission? Answering this question should help you get started with messaging. The messaging might fall into two camps:

  • Proactive messaging: Is your mission directly affected because of political decisions being made? If so, your messaging might position you on the offensive—perhaps as specific talking points that address stances The White House is taking and what you’re doing to fight back. Here’s a simple framework for proactive messaging to help you get started:
      • Outline what your organization stands for
      • Address the threat posed by the new administration
      • State what you’re doing about it and why your work is needed now
      • Ask your community to take action

This ACLU example follows this framework, but simplifies it—their homepage lightbox uses urgent language, takes a clear stance against Trump, and has a call to action. Another example is this webpage from Union for Concerned Scientists—it takes a stance in support of science, highlights the risk posed by the new administration, and gives the community plenty of actions to take. 

  • Restructured messaging: If your mission isn’t directly affected by the changes happening in the Trump era, that doesn’t mean you can’t talk about it. Restructuring your current approach to messaging might be appropriate here—leaning on the messaging you already use, but framing it with the new administration in mind. Charity Navigator, an organization that evaluates charities to guide intelligent giving, recently posted this webpage of immigration and refugee organizations in response to the controversial executive order. They tie in what they do (“making it easier for donors to identify highly rated charities”), but make it relevant to the political environment.

So if you’re scrambling to decide what to say about the political environment, look to your mission. Should you be proactive in your messaging? Or does it make more sense for you to simply reframe your current messaging in response to the new political environment? And for those of you searching for communications guidance beyond messaging, check out another recent blog post: Finding your nonprofit’s voice in the Trump era.