The Trump effect on not-for-profits

Even as the "Donald Trump effect" continues to sweep the world, not-for-profits are acutely aware they could be in for a rough ride following the election of the maverick ex-reality star.

The Trump effect was a hot topic when not-for-profit board members gathered in Melbourne for the annual Board Builder conference last month to hone their skills, examine best practice, and network.

Hundreds witnessed the thought-provoking keynote by US data scientist Andrew Means about the role of data, heard bracing presentations about what can go wrong on a board, and followed gritty discussions about staying in the black.

But perhaps the most engaging part of the day involved board members turning the microscope on themselves in a series of round-table discussions designed to nut out problems facing boards - and delegates wasted no time in pointing the finger at the US president.

The Trump factor

All agreed Trump represents a major shift in global politics from which Australia isn't immune.

"Trump is symbolic of the move to the right and towards a less sympathetic view about the disadvantaged," said one delegate.

Another said Trump's views about women were discouraging, and that his election had also amplified the voices of people who are opposed to supporting refugees, people with disabilities, or other vulnerable people. They said Trump's inflammatory comments against those groups had encouraged an anti-welfare, anti-progressive agenda.

"As someone working in regulation, from what I can see, shifts in the political landscape are a potential threat to some funding models," another said.

Adapt or perish

That sparked discussion about government funding challenges, including the impact of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

"As a result of the NDIS, mental health funding has halved, even though needs don't change. It highlights the fact that you need to be aware of current policies and think about how you can prepare your organisation for changes," one delegate said

Heavy reliance on government money brings its own challenges: "There's a continual challenge to maintain the independence of policy positions, program design and advocacy when you're heavily reliant on government funding," another attendee remarked.

"What are you prepared and not prepared to do for your funding?" a delegate asked.

Difficult headwinds - including increasing regulation and compliance requirements - prompted others to talk about the need to evolve.

As one delegate put it, "It means we need, in some way, to think like a business - in terms of innovating", while another countered, "We don't want to be another 7Eleven."

Others pointed to the rewards of collaborating instead of competing with other groups.

And while mergers remain on the agenda for some groups, many have shifted focus to "staying small, and doing it well".

The annual Board Builder conference is staged by the Institute of Community Directors Australia (ICDA), an Our Community Enterprise. ICDA is the best-practice network for members of Australian not-for-profit boards, committees and councils, and the senior staff who support them. Membership starts at $65.

This article first appeared inOur Community Matters. Tap here for the latest edition.

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