The Future of Arts Nonprofits in a New Political Landscape

By Meryl Friedman, Graduate Fellow at Cause Strategy Partners, LLC

As part of a collaboration with New York Community Trust (NYCT), our team at Cause Strategy Partners launched our first issue-focused BoardLead program in NYC last Fall called BoardLead Arts NYC. We set out to strengthen nonprofit arts organizations by training and placing diverse, talented, and driven professionals on their boards. In partnership with NYCT, Google, Goldman Sachs, and Mastercard, we placed 12 BoardLeaders on the boards of 11 nonprofits working in the arts!

But just as we dove into the incredible world of nonprofits who democratize the arts in NYC, the political landscape changed.  

During my first week as a Graduate Fellow at Cause Strategy Partners, I attended the first BoardLead Arts Learning Session where our new BoardLeaders get a crash course in board service. As our Principal & Founder, Robert Acton, discussed the responsibilities of board members, one BoardLeader raised a very thoughtful concern:

Will my nonprofit be affected by the new administration? Could my role as a board member change?

These are important questions, and unfortunately, we do not have clear answers. Nevertheless, I instantly wanted to dive into the topic to see what may lie ahead, and what — if anything– nonprofits  can do now to brace for change.

What I found? There is good news and bad news. Let’s get to work:

Decline in government funding for the cultural sector

Although funding for the arts has always been a hurdle, nonprofits may hit a new roadblock this year. Proposed budget cuts from the current federal administration would eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences.

What could this mean?

In the short term, we will see an increase in competition for grants and donations. It is unclear what the long-term implications of this will be. But with 40% of NEA grants funding projects in high-poverty neighborhoods, and 36% of grants supporting underserved populations, we can only guess that access to the arts will dramatically shrink for those who need it the most.  


The Johnson Amendment

In 1954, Lyndon B. Johnson championed the Johnson Amendment to prevent tax-exempt religious institutions and nonprofits from intervening and participating in political campaigns. The amendment takes politics out of the nonprofit purview so that change makers can focus on addressing community needs rather than the next election. The amendment preserves the non-partisanship that fuel the nonprofit sector.

Why is this relevant now?

The current federal administration looks to repeal the Johnson Amendment, a decision that has the potential to completely alter the nonprofit landscape. Without the Johnson Amendment, donors could, for example, give anonymous and unlimited tax-free donations to support political candidates through their church. Many tax-exempt donations would no longer support a compassionate mission, but instead a political candidate.

A repeal of the Johnson Amendment would threaten the nonpartisanship that is so crucial to the nonprofit sector. President of the National Council of Nonprofits, Tim Delaney, said,

Nonpartisanship is vital to the work of charitable nonprofits. It enables organizations to address community challenges, and invites the problem-solving skills of all residents, without the distractions of party labels and the caustic partisanship that is bedeviling our country

There is good news!

Philanthropy is on the Rise

In 2016, philanthropic giving to all nine nonprofit sub-sectors increased to $390 billion in the U.S.! Individuals, foundations, and corporations seem galvanized to give to important causes. The arts and culture nonprofit subsector is the second-fastest growing and saw a 5% increase in donations. With $18 billion in donations last year, the arts sector might be able to diversify funding as government funding declines.

New York City is Allocating More Towards the Arts

In New York City, Mayor de Blasio is considering a shake-up to the $178 million municipal arts budget. With an eye on diversifying arts funding and supporting smaller organizations, New York’s nonprofit sector may see an increase in arts funding for underserved communities.


What Can You Do?

We don’t know exactly what local and federal policies and budgets will look like over the next 4 years, but we do know the power of nonprofit missions and the potential of their passionate leaders. We have been blown away by the impact of our nonprofit partners in New York City and Chicago. So what can you do in light of these new trends?

SHARE your mission every chance you get.

ASK for help: support doesn’t have to be financial. Ask friends to share your mission.

SPEAK UP for your mission and the voices of those who can’t speak up for themselves.

EDUCATE yourself and others on the potential impact of policy changes, then call your congressperson.

BUILD a strong, diverse, and resilient Board of Directors to expand your network and toolbox!

At Cause Strategy Partners, we get to meet amazing nonprofits and BoardLeaders who turn up every day to advocate for social change. We are constantly wowed by their courage and compassion. We are committed to placing driven and talented individual on nonprofit boards to support organizations through these changing times. We honor their grit, resilience, and heart. To learn more about our programs, follow us at @WeAreBoardLead.



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