Moving Forward in Uncertain Times

In November of 2016, the Boston Globe reported on a pervasive sense of concern and uncertainty in the nonprofit sector as President Trump took office. The Globe reported Jim Klocke, CEO of the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network, as saying, “People are apprehensive, people are wondering what’s going to happen on a whole bunch of fronts. There’s an awful lot of concern out there.”

Six months later, the full effect of the new administration on the nonprofit sector remains unclear. But despite continued uncertainty, many of the nonprofits we serve want to move forward. To inform their planning at a time when the future is particularly hard to predict, they are looking to a variety of data sources and using the data in creative ways.

Here are three data sources our clients have drawn on to shape their assumptions and inform their plans for the future:

1.      One client looked to recommendations from the Heritage Foundation to the Trump administration on how to reduce the size and scope of government. Based in part on Heritage recommendations, our client chose not to hinge their growth plan on partnerships with agencies that Heritage had tagged for major cuts in government funding. The Washington Post confirmed the wisdom of this when it reported that the budget Trump released this spring bore a “striking resemblance” to the Heritage Foundation’s model.

2.      For another client, Wellspring conducted research on the scale and pace of budgetary changes after the election of another conservative American president who was determined to make big change, fast – Ronald Reagan. Under Reagan, cuts to social services came quickly, affecting nonprofit funding by the second year of the administration. Our client used this history as a guide for what they might expect under Trump. Now, they are proactively preparing for cuts on a similar timeline as what social service agencies saw under Reagan and are working to ramp up private funding in time to fill the gap.

3.      Several of our clients are learning from results of a survey of 162 foundation CEOs published by the Center for Effective Philanthropy. The survey assessed how foundations are altering their grantmaking as a result of the election of Donald Trump. It found that three quarters of foundation CEOs are making or plan to make changes in their work as a result of the election. The most frequently reported areas for increased emphasis were collaborating with other funders, advocacy and policy at the local or state level, and convening grantees. Only 1% expected their grantmaking to decrease, while 14% expected it to increase. Many respondents expected to increase funding in areas hard-hit by political change. Our clients are drawing on these insights to inform their conversations with funders.

Nonprofits need not be paralyzed by periods of uncertainty. If they look in the right places, they can find data that can inform their plans and prepare them to meet the future, whatever it looks like.