Politics vs. Nonprofits – Your Comfort Zone

Recently the Arizona state legislature passed a law that allows law enforcement to require people to show their citizenship papers if they are suspected of living in the U.S. illegally. Much political debate and critical analysis, both legally and “hot-headed”, have been given to this law.

However, the point of this piece is to highlight a recent decision by The California Endowment to mull over rescinding on its $5.2 million commitment to Arizona because of this law’s passage. The Chronicle of Philanthropy brought this event to my attention this evening.  The Endowment supports companies in Arizona that fulfills its mission to support and raise up undeserved communities in their region through reforms for health, education, and business  – and direct public policy action at times.

Chief Executive Officer Robert K. Ross identifies that what has been passed in Arizona directly contridicts the purpose of the Endowment in such an egregious way that they only way to take a stand for their principles is to un-invest in the state.

Yet we now find we have investments in a state that’s just passed a law with significant potential for racial profiling, a law that, if enforced, runs counter to our core mission and values.

This is some serious combat between a nonprofit and a law it deems unjust and immoral. However, not every nonprofit that has a beef with a law goes this far. Some actually are geared for this type of fight, others are less forthright and skirmish from the sidelines.

So how you should you act in a situation like this that goes against the core values of your nonprofit? The answer will surprise you, as it wil have to be your own. You must make this decision with the advice of a trusted core of peers, employees, and executives. A decision such as the one The California Endowment made will likely come back to them outside of favorable or unfavorable opinions of their decision. And yet, you will have to weigh these pros and cons that being a nonprofit professional may have not prepared you for.

Much is to be debated about a decision like this. In my opinion you must go with what your nonprofit’s mission commands. And if it is something as clear as the California Endowment, your decision may be easier. As will be the size of your budget. Nonprofit professionals must realize that some decisions have to be prudent – if its not in the face of you mandate. Its clear to see that any decision is complex when dealing with local or national politics, funding, and a institution’s mission.

For this nonprofit and their specific mission, I could not agree more with their decision to fight this law with their purse. It is times like these that will test the steel will of an organization in the face of such mind-numbing vicious political cycles. More importantly, kudos to their courage to make a choice after such deep soul searching. It is something all nonprofits should aspire to imitate in decision making.

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