With the rancor of the election making the fault lines in US society evident, many associations and nonprofit leaders are now challenged to navigate and perhaps heal these divisions.
I could see this challenge playing out in two very different, yet decidedly nonpartisan groups this past week. One was the board of a national association in education reviewing and adopting a strategic plan for the next few years. The other was a community-based organization that draws its power from the diversity of its member organizations; it was organizing volunteer leaders to pursue a regional priorities agenda developed before the election. As I watched these leaders struggle to find their footing post-election, I saw them adopt a similar and wise multi-step response.
- Resolve to engage with and listen better to members and people across the spectrum of points of view to understand their fears, grievances, hopes and priorities. Who needs to be heard? Who needs reassuring?
- Affirm the clarity of your purpose, identity and vision for the future. Who are we and what do we believe? Take the time to clarify what defines your organization despite who may wield political power.
- Gather the courage to take positions in defense of your core principles even if this creates conflict. What are the issues where you must draw the line? Assemble the evidence to explain what is at stake in these decisions. And get prepared to shift your resources and strategies if you must make a stand.
These leaders acknowledged the potential peril they face. Because trust has eroded and polarization has increased, even broad-based, nonpartisan organizations are likely to be misunderstood.
Associations and nonprofits do have the forums and channels to be healers of the breach if they have the courage to openly discuss critical yet controversial issues. They can help discover common ground and develop policies and programs that might address diverse interests. They can also be a bulwark for preserving and protecting core values our democratic society needs to sustain.
All signs point to a period of intense uncertainty and unrest. For the good of their organizations and the well being of the country, thousands of leaders will have to demonstrate they have clarity of purpose and the courage to fight when they must for the future their constituents need.