During his campaign and since winning the race, President-elect Donald Trump has been uncharacteristically quiet about his view of the charitable sector. And since he has refused to release his tax returns, his own charitable giving is a big unknown.
That has many nonprofit organizations feeling deeply unsettled.
“People are apprehensive, people are wondering what’s going to happen on a whole bunch of fronts,” said Jim Klocke, CEO of the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network. “There’s an awful lot of concern out there.”
In some parts of the nonprofit community, including those that work with immigrants, “there’s a lot of despondency,” said David Shapiro, CEO of Boston-based MENTOR, a youth development organization. “But there’s also a lot of girding up, a sense that these times are what advocates were made for, and we’re going to stand with our people.”
Here are some areas of concern that a Trump administration presents to the nonprofit sector:
Nonprofits could suffer under Trump’s tax plan
The current federal tax code includes incentives for people to donate to charity, but Trump’s proposed tax reforms are expected to reduce those incentives, resulting in a falloff in donations.
Trump has said he will lower marginal tax rates, raise the standard deduction, and cap itemized deductions, all of which will likely mean less money going to charities.
A recent report by the Tax Policy Institute estimates Trump’s plan would reduce individual giving by up to 9 percent in 2017, or as much as $26 billion.
On the flip side, Trump’s generous tax cuts could result in taxpayers having more money to give to charity, at least theoretically. But Klocke would rather not test that theory.
“We need the federal incentive for charitable contributions to stay in place,” he said, “because that’s a very important, very powerful incentive for charitable giving.”
Cuts in federal discretionary spending could harm nonprofits
Trump has said he will cut spending by $1.2 trillion over the next decade, in part by repealing the Affordable Care Act and slashing non-defense discretionary spending. The latter encompasses a wide range of programs, including education, scientific research, national parks, and public health.
That has many federally funded nonprofits wondering if their budgets could be on the chopping block.
At the same time, Trump has pledged to increase spending on defense, infrastructure, veterans programs, and child care.
“If you increase spending on military and infrastructure, and a big wing of your party doesn’t want to spend money at all, what’s going to get cut?” said Shapiro. “That feels to me like social services and other things a big part of our sector considers integral to our communities.”
Jeff Thielman, CEO of the International Institute of New England, which helps immigrants and refugees, noted that 70 percent of his budget is government money.
“Our first concern is whether or not the funding priorities of the new administration are going to shift to such a degree that our funding is cut,” he said. “My other fear is President Trump could do something dramatic and say, ‘I’m going to shut down the program,’ or not as many refugees can come, or not certain types of refugees.”
“We’re not sure what’s going to happen,” Thielman added, “but we certainly have an administration coming into place in Washington, D.C., that has made derogatory comments about Muslims, immigrants, and refugees, and that’s who we serve.”
If Trump cuts government services, nonprofits could be further burdened
If government-funded programs are reduced under a Trump administration, charities worry they’ll be left to pick up the slack even as they struggle with existing workloads.
“All of those people will then turn to nonprofits for assistance,” added Tim Delaney, CEO of the National Council of Nonprofits. “There’s an expectation that nonprofits and private philanthropy will fill the void, but the nonprofit community is exhausted…and one more straw on this camel’s back can break us.”
Nonprofits wonder if Trump’s bark will also have bite
Given the disparaging remarks Trump has made about immigrants, women, and other minority groups, nonprofits that work with those populations wonder how Trump’s words will play out once he’s in office.
“We can only hope that the campaign rhetoric that stoked fires of bigotry, misogyny, and xenophobia...doesn’t manifest itself in policies and practices that govern this nation,” said Michael Weekes, chief executive of the Boston-based Providers’ Council, a statewide association of human services organizations. “If that language translates into policies, then we’ve got a problem.”
“There’s tremendous anxiety for nonprofit missions,” added Delaney. “People are feeling vulnerable because of the highly charged negative campaign language and they’re searching for answers, and those answers will not be forthcoming for a while.”
On the other hand, Delaney said, “now’s the opportunity for the nonprofit community to do what we do so well, which is to bring people together.”Sacha Pfeiffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @SachaPfeiffer.