A Trump Supporter Walks Into A Nonprofit…

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“When truth is replaced by silence, the silence is a lie.” – Yevgeny Yevtushenko

I am incredibly pleased by the amount of conversation my post about Neutrality in Fundraising has started. I think that the number of voices and points of view being shared makes a pretty important statement: that we’re each entitled to our opinions, and we are entitled to share them openly if we so choose.

I had people message me privately saying they didn’t even feel comfortable/safe to comment on my blog or share it via social media, even though they really wanted to, out of fear from negative reaction from their orgs and others. And this isn’t even political… or is it? I dove a bit deeper into this issue in another follow up post about treatment of fundraisers, and women specifically.

First, to clarify a few things. I’m not saying we should be pushy, arrogant online trolls. Indeed, if you did a quick scan through which demographic of individuals assert themselves this way online, you’d find yourself in a sea of white dudes, likely in a basement covered in pizza sauce.

I think that the deeper issue of social media’s (and media in general) influence on democracies cannot be ignored. Certainly, media of any kind is a double-edged sword, and I am by no means fully qualified to tackle the issue. Look instead to individuals like Noam Chomsky or Marshall McLuhan. Likewise, how our organisations (be they socially focused, hospitals, universities, or healthcare) intersect with our democracy is a deep and interesting topic.

I also think that we could parse every single micro example of what this could look like at an organisational level and still wouldn’t find a “solution” – indeed, women like Stephanie Highfield offered her very reasonable approach for when she was faced with this kind of dilemma. Was she rude, arrogant, pushy? No. Did she remain silent and refrain from sharing news stories and ideas that she felt were important? No. Because she’s a reasonable, professional grown up who is completely entitled to her own opinion, and she was able to react in a way that she felt was appropriate. No one told her what to do. She had autonomy. Was it appropriate and who gets to decide? In my opinion: Stephanie gets to decide.

I also think that we may be getting lost in “Political” vs “political.” Everything is political, but not everything has to do with Politics (ie, Hilary vs Bernie, GOP, etc) If we start slicing and dicing what is appropriate, we need to recognize that even tweeting that you don’t like Taco Bell, or won’t drink a certain brand of milk, or won’t shop at Wal-Mart, are polarizing opinions. What if a potential donor sees that I disagree with how Wal-Mart treats its employees and is offended? What if the philanthropist owner of Taco Bell sees that his burritos give me food poisoning every time I’ve eaten one?

I think the moment we tell any group of individuals that they shouldn’t share opinions on Politics or politics (this is more than GOP Debates, #BlackLivesMatter, Syrian refugees), I think we’re travelling down very dangerous road. What is the line? Who gets to draw it?

“Censorship is telling a man he can’t have a steak just because a baby can’t chew it.” – Mark Twain

My issue remains at the macro level:

What is philanthropy, really?

Who does philanthropy belong to? 

Who does philanthropy end up erasing in the process? 

And since when was it ever not political, even when you don’t happen to work in politics?

And I’ll add another question….

Who gets to have an opinion about it? 

So a donor wearing a “Trump 2016” hat walks into a nonprofit with a million dollar cheque.

First of all, I can’t assume he’s not wearing the hat as a joke, or maybe lost a bet with his brother. I’m not going to drop kick him upon arrival. I also won’t get into the argument of whether or not an organisation should accept money from someone who likely believes that Muslim people are evil and should be banned from the country.

I’ll also assume that, if he is indeed a Trump supporter (enough so to broadcast it from an article of clothing), this nonprofit has nothing to do with homelessness, poverty, women’s issues, educating children from low income families, LGBTQ issues. Because let’s be honest… he wouldn’t be here.

I’ll also assume that it’s not the NRA, an anti-abortion org, or something along these lines, because I wouldn’t be working there in the first place.

So I’ll take Joe’s example. A lung cancer charity. Obviously, as a fundraiser, I would be grateful, gracious, and look to build the relationship. Why is this donor donating? His mother died of lung cancer? What’s the connection, the reason? I’d want to get to know about his life and his experiences. Obviously “I’m an agnostic, feminist, socialist and I love gay people and immigrants and #BlackLivesMatter” wouldn’t be the first thing out of my mouth. And I’m certain “I FUCKING LOVE DONALD TRUMP!” wouldn’t be the first thing out of his. If it was, well, I honestly don’t know how I’d react. Laugh, probably.

But in speaking around his connection to the cause, and showing the impact his gift would make, no doubt the issue of healthcare would come up. Maybe his mother wasn’t diagnosed quickly enough. Maybe his family felt trapped and confused by treatment options. Maybe our organisation offered his family the kind of support and education that he needed to focus on keeping his mother comfortable and pain free in her dying days.

Healthcare, as we know, is a hugely political issue. I live in Canada where I have universal healthcare – and while it’s not a perfect system, it certainly changes the way we access treatment. As a fundraiser representing an organisation that must partner with the healthcare system, I know that the outcomes for a woman battling lung cancer depend largely on how quickly she is diagnosed, how quickly she can access the best treatment available, and how researchers are able to do their work to look for better diagnostic, treatment, and comfort care solutions.

To say that politics has nothing to do with how this organisation can carry out its work – education, support, research, and advocacy – would be false. It’s not about cramming our educational pamphlets down his throat, or our own personal opinions, but any impact we have as an organisation is closely vested in the kind of healthcare system we are partnering with. That HE is partnering with by making such a massive contribution. I wouldn’t have to say a thing about Democrats or Republicans — “quality healthcare” is loaded enough. It could be enough to piss this donor off. But I’m not going to not talk about the importance of quality healthcare in relation to the work my charity does. Or stop tweeting on my personal account that our governments (either side of the spectrum) need to do more to make healthcare affordable.

I think Mary Cahalane nailed it in her comment:

“I see a difference – or I’ve acted differently, to be more specific – between offering unsolicited political views to donors (I don’t) and refraining from responding honestly. Over my time as a staffer and as a consultant, I’ve worked with people and even befriended people whose politics I’m fairly sure I don’t agree with.

So the relationship goes first. That means both I don’t pounce on them so I can express my opinions uninvited, and that I don’t have to pretend to be someone I’m not or in agreement with something I’m not.

I’m pretty diplomatic in person. I’m not looking for a fight. I won’t nod and agree with something I find wrong – but chances are I’ll find an excuse to move on to someone else. Or if pressed, just say I disagree.

Where I draw the line? My personal accounts. If I read something outrageous or amazing, I’ll tweet it. Or share it on Facebook. Will it annoy someone? Maybe. In some cases, I hope so – because too many people don’t even give important issues much attention these days. Maybe a little needling causes some thought. I’m not willing to throttle that back. Civil rights, war, economic inequality – to refrain from those debates would be to give up the cause, to give in.

And as a staff member, I knew I represented the organization. But no one should have to smile and nod when someone says or does something hurtful. I can have a grown-up conversation. And we can agree to disagree..

Just like we’re doing here!”

I don’t believe anyone has said they viciously cram their opinions down the throats of donors. I think what I’m hearing is that fundraisers don’t want to be erased. Humans have opinions and we are free to express them. We cannot be compartmentalized. If your organisation has a strict “no personal social media accounts” policy (which some do), it’s your choice as an individual to either sign it or not. Honestly, that would be a deal breaker for me. But that’s my choice.

But this man walking into my nonprofit is just another micro example that still doesn’t get us any closer to the answers of my original questions.

What is philanthropy, really?

Who does philanthropy belong to? 

Who does philanthropy end up erasing in the process? 

Since when was it ever not political, even when you don’t happen to work in Politics?

Who gets to have an opinion about it?