Live From IS: Where Nonprofits Fit After ‘Primal Scream’

Washington, D.C. – Nonprofit leaders were told that the nation had let out “the greatest primal scream” on Nov. 8 and now there is an opportunity to learn from the presidential election results. The electorate is being dismissive of institutions and that could leak over to the charitable sector.

Those were among the ideas floated yesterday during a two-part opening plenary session called “The Great Shared Risk” at the annual conference of nonprofit advocacy and infrastructure group Independent Sector. More than 1,000 nonprofit leaders are attending the nearly weeklong conference being held at the Washington Hilton.

The first half of the plenary dealt with the election and the results. Steve Inskeep, host of “Morning Edition” on NPR, interviewed political operative Patti Solis Doyle and Michael Steel. Doyle is a CNN commentator who ran Hillary Clinton’s 2000 Senate campaign, her 2006 re-election campaign and launched Clinton’s first unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2008. Steel, managing director of Hamilton Place Strategies, was press secretary to former Speaker of the House John Boehner and press secretary to Rep. Paul Ryan when he ran for vice president in 2012.

The big question was how the polls, which predicted an electoral landslide for Clinton, could be so wrong. Steel said that there were a lot of signs being ignored. When calls were made by machine, known as robo-calling, Donald Trump did better than when voters were reached by a live operator. “People didn’t want to argue with their neighbors,” he said. Doyle said that in her unscientific polling of cab drivers “nine out of 10” were either for Trump or Sen. Bernie Sanders, Clinton’s challenger for the Democratic nomination.

Trump also ran an unconventional campaign, she said, when “a provocative Tweet became breaking news on CNN.” Doyle said, “Hillary did everything correct by conventional methods” and now those methods need to be re-examined.

Inskeep said that institutional politicians did not understand the nation’s economic divide. “People were angry and felt left behind,” he said. Steel said that even through Trump’s comments during visits to minority communities were “not sensitive or appropriate in most cases,” people had enough of the old guard. “The people deliberately decided to blow the system up,” Steel said.

The nonprofit sector’s role in the aftermath was discussed in the plenary’s second half. Sandra Vargas, former president of the Minneapolis Foundation, discussed what the sector learned and how it should react with Ellen Alberding, president of the Joyce Foundation, and Brian Gallagher, president and CEO of United Way Worldwide.

Alberding said that her foundation funds organizations in what she described as the “ground zero” states of Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin – states Clinton was projected to win but did not. Attitudes changed even though the region is “older and whiter than the rest of the country and will be that way for the next 20 to 30 years,” she said. The region will also see a doubling of the Latino population “not by immigration but by births.” It also has some of the “most extreme segregation and poverty” in the nation.

Finding common ground will be key to healing, according to Alberding. For example, water quality of the Great Lakes is a bipartisan issue. “You have to look for opportunities at the state level,” she said. Alberding urged foundation leaders to stop shying away from advocacy and to be more aggressive. “It’s not always an outsider’s game,” she said.

Gallagher said he was stunned by the election result “but not shocked by it.” He said the nation has a “gutted middle class and a gutted political center.” The sector can take a pass on the economy and on politics “but can’t take a pass on culture.” People are divided on many levels but that the nation is now “divided by identity and that’s our business,” he said. It should be an issue of “policy, not personality,” Gallagher added.

The election and general mood of the nation is that government, the affluent and organizations are “seen as a global elite” and that Millennials and younger citizens don’t need “ institutions to get what they want.” Said Gallagher, nonprofit leaders need to “engage in ways that matter most” to those who feel disenfranchised.