On Nonprofit Leaders Navigating the Trump Election

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by Michael Vadon (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Organizations across the country were shaken by the election of Donald Trump. If you work in a libertarian or progressive organization, a civil liberties or environmental group, a nonprofit defending reproductive choice or the rights of the LGBTQ community, or any organization working toward immigration reform, prison reform, or racial justice, this election is bad news. And frankly, it’s bad news for many other advocacy groups as well.

If you’re a manager or leader at one of these nonprofits, then this is a critical time for you. Your team and others will be looking to you for support and reassurance, your organization may be processing a wide range of emotional reactions, and your long term plans may need to be reshuffled.

Here are four things to keep in mind as the next few weeks unfold:

  • Give your people space and time to process in their own way. Some folks in your organization may be shell-shocked and overwhelmed. Others may be furious. Some will be seeking answers and ready for action. Others will be afraid for themselves, their friends, and their family. Don’t expect everyone to process this moment the same way you do. Instead, create space. Leave your door wide open for deep, non-judgmental, empathetic conversations. This may take a day or a few weeks, but in the long run your team may be closer and more connected than ever before.
  • Be honest. It can be tempting to try to tell your team that “everything will be OK.” You might think that this will help your team feel better. Instead, they may think you don’t understand or recognize the severity of what’s occurred. Long term, your team will respect you more and be better prepared for the future if you are honest with them about the challenges this election creates for your work. This a great opportunity to practice being supportive and welcoming without trying to fix or downplay someone else’s fears.
  • Revisit your 6 month, 1 year, and 5 year plans. The election results may put you in a different place on a range of your issues. While it’s too early to know specifics, you may need need to work with your key staff members to revisit and revise your future plans.
  • Be gentle with yourself. This election may have caused some fear and uncertainty in your own life. You may be struggling to come to terms with it. Don’t just make yourself a support system for other people. Give yourself space to acknowledge your own feelings, find friends you can talk to, and take steps to make sure you’re taking care of your own heart and mind right now. Remember: you’re needed in the fight ahead.

The next few weeks and months might be difficult times for some members of your organization, but they also bring a lot of opportunity. This is a time to engage with more supporters, showcase the value of your work, and build a stronger movement. Many will be galvanized by this election to increase their involvement in mission-driven nonprofits, so this could well turn into a time of growth and energy. Internally, such times can be a mixed bag—stress fractures that have been hidden just beneath the surface may spring up or teams may find they bond deeply. It’s also a chance for everyone in your organization to anchor themselves in the mission. In any case, the next few weeks can be a defining time for your organization and for you as a leader.

So walk into this time with an eye open to the lessons and opportunities just below the surface, and practice some gentleness toward yourself and others in the process.

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