I’ve spent the week in Washington D.C. I was here for the National Council of Nonprofits board meeting, the state association “learning confab” and time with our congressional delegation and many colleagues from across the nation. It was a great week to be here – lots going on.
Tuesday, June 20: Participated in the National Council of Nonprofits board meeting. Right now – with so much change and uncertainty – I appreciate the front row seat this offers Montana into what’s taking place across the national network. There is great concern on the part of the state nonprofit associations for the well-being of nonprofits and their constituents given federal and state budgets and the ramifications of proposed changes in health care policy. Here are several of the board members who are state association leaders, including Doug (New York), Lisa (Hawaii), Marnie (Oklahoma), Donna (Michigan), Renny (Colorado), Trisha (North Carolina) Anne (Nebraska) and our CEO, Tim Delaney. Thank you to the MNA Board for giving me the opportunity to be a part of this remarkable (and obviously fun) group.
Wednesday, June 21: Started the day on the fourth floor of the Russell Building at Montana Coffee. With Representative Gianforte’s first day in office the place was hopping with the regular crowd of visitors, well-wishers and a number of TV cameras. Seemed like a good day for a photo. Welcome Congressman Gianforte. Along with Senators Tester and Daines, MNA thanks you for your service and we look forward to working with you on behalf of the common good in Montana.
After coffee I met with staff from Senator Tester and Senator Daines offices.
MNA requested four – – no, five things.
Preserve nonprofit nonpartisanship by rejecting the repeal or weakening of the Johnson Amendment.
As tax reform is considered – incentivize charitable giving. If tax reform results in less itemizers, charitable giving will decrease. To offset this, provide a universal “above the line” deduction for charitable giving.
Employ a thoughtful approach to spending cuts rather than simply using an across the board formula.
Be mindful of the implications of changes in healthcare policy. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Keep what’s working.
And last, we asked that our partners in government Washington D.C. take every opportunity to build relationships across differences and take the lead in encouraging civil discourse.
Thursday, June 22: The Senate version of healthcare reform was released. Here is a side by side comparison of the current plan (ACA) and the proposed version. This was the most current analysis I could find, pending a full analysis by the Congressional Budget Analysis. Politico also has a good graphic analysis here. Wow, what a week to be in DC.
Going back to the topic of relationships – I didn’t talk with anyone who is happy with how the Republicans and Democrats are working together in general. There are some bright spots in terms of individual relationships between offices, but in general the climate is toxic and each side is blaming the other. And I’m talking at a national level – not singling out Montana in particular. As a person who doesn’t really like the concept of “sides”, I spent some time thinking about how it can be that a pool of good people could divide themselves and become so entrenched. I know I’m not alone trying to understand this. I didn’t come up with anything too earth shattering, but I did take a few minutes to consider what I could do to help build bridges instead of contributing to divisiveness. I admit, it’s painful for me to pass up the opportune cynical comment – but I’ve at least begun to ask myself if my personal commentary is really helping or hurting. I’m honestly not sure. Humor is fundamentally better than lack of humor…so there’s that. And there is certainly a responsibility for honesty and candor. But maybe I could rein in my personal cynicism by some small amount. 17% or 18%. Max. I’ll give it a shot.
About the MNA request list (#1-5 above): A few weeks ago, 88 of you responded to a survey asking what’s on your mind as nonprofit leaders. We heard three major themes – none of them too surprising: concern about state and federal budgets, well-being of constituents, and fundraising. The prevailing tone of the responses was one of uncertainty and the stress that comes with not knowing what’s going to happen. We carried that message to our congressional delegation, especially in the conversation about incentivizing charitable giving. So thank you for taking time to respond to the survey and offering your very insightful comments. Candidly, we are in for some hard times – and I offer this advice based on my conversations with you, our congressional delegation, and my colleagues around the nation:
In whatever ways you have the opportunity to build your reserve and/or appropriately diversify revenue – do that. This is not “new news”, but the most optimistic nonprofits in our survey were those who didn’t foresee an immediate financial crisis.
Elected officials are always running for office. Take advantage of that by communicating what’s on your mind, how your constituents are faring, and what your expectations are. Express your appreciation as well as your disappointment. You might think you’ve communicated once and that should do it. It doesn’t. Senator Tester has a history of holding town hall meetings. Attend one. Senator Daines has shown a preference for call-in meetings. Participate. Congressman Gianforte has indicated he is going to travel the state in August. Tell him what’s on your mind. Write op-eds, communicate with congressional staff via phone and email. By whatever means you have be an unstoppable advocate – fierce but respectful, and clear about your expectations and your experience.
Take heart. On any complicated issue, no one is 100% right. Which means there is always merit in another perspective. We should practice finding it. It won’t change reality, but maybe we’ll be happier and preserve our relationships rather than becoming entrenched – mimicking the very behavior we deplore in Washington DC.
Friday, June 23: On my way back from DC – just me and my Mac putting this together during a layover. But now it’s time to wrap it up and catch my ride home. Dang…Montana is so far from everything. On the other hand, therein is great merit.