A House Divided — Will Nonprofits be Ready?

by Ed Walz, Springboard Partners, and Lacey McNary, McNary Group

With Democrats poised to gain in November, issues that have stalled in recent years may find their way back on to policy agendas. But the country is different now than it was just months ago, and progress on the issues that matter to America’s nonprofits will depend in part on solutions that can gain the support of both Democrats and Republicans. And on whether nonprofits are ready for the challenge of divided government.

A few months ago, the winds of change were howling. Democrats held leads of up to 16 points on the generic congressional ballot, in late February. And with Democratic candidates posting high-profile wins in congressional special elections and having flipped 40 statehouse seats since Inauguration Day, we still think November’s will be a change election. But more recent polling shows the race tightening.

Divided government means contention, but it also means compromise. And newly-elected policymakers on both sides of the aisle will feel accountable to address the real issues that matter for families. That could create opportunities for nonprofits to make progress on issues that have been in limbo for years. The question for nonprofits is this: Are you ready for a future where both sides of the aisle matter?

We believe that nonprofits nationwide have a lot to learn from their colleagues in the “red” states of the South and the West. Both sides of the aisle have always mattered in those regions, and nonprofits in those states have always had to find solutions that bridge partisan divides. Recent red state wins include:

All of these wins followed hard and long fights, none of them is a complete victory, and each is unique. But taken together, they offer a critical insight. In a nation where divided government may soon be the default, there is much to learn from the successes of red state advocates who built policies that could work for Republicans and Democrats and found ways to win.

The challenge for nonprofits and the philanthropies that fund them is to learn what they can and share the lessons they learn, so all will be prepared for the change coming this fall.