ShareThis Page
Allegheny

Nonprofits, charities told to get out of comfort zone, listen better

Natasha Lindstrom
| Friday, Nov. 18, 2016, 4:21 p.m.
John Allison (from left), editorial page editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; Larry Davis, dean of the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Social Work; Jones Day law firm partner Laura Ellsworth; and Michelle Figlar, vice president of learning at The Heinz Endowments, participate in a panel discussion Friday, Nov. 18, 2016, at the Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership’s annual meeting in Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in Oakland.
Natasha Lindstrom | Tribune-Review
John Allison (from left), editorial page editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; Larry Davis, dean of the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Social Work; Jones Day law firm partner Laura Ellsworth; and Michelle Figlar, vice president of learning at The Heinz Endowments, participate in a panel discussion Friday, Nov. 18, 2016, at the Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership’s annual meeting in Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in Oakland.

Americans should work harder at breaking out of comfort zones, traveling to unfamiliar neighborhoods and being open to listening to opinions that differ from their own, several speakers emphasized Friday during Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership's annual meeting.

“You have to challenge yourself to drive somewhere else, to visit someone new, to leave your street, to leave your county, to leave Western Pennsylvania and drive across the state,” Michelle Figlar, vice president of learning for The Heinz Endowments, told about 600 nonprofit workers, business professionals and philanthropic supporters at Carnegie Library in Oakland.

“Talk to the mom who's working three jobs. Talk to the dad who can't find work,” continued Figlar, who noted that she found value in visiting as many of Pennsylvania's 67 counties as she could during her prior role as deputy secretary of the state Office of Child Development and Early Learning. “Leave your own backyard and see the pain that people are suffering.”

Urgency to foster healthy dialogue and bridge divides across greater Pittsburgh permeated discussion at the nonprofit advocacy group's meeting and panel talk, which centered on the theme, “Post Election: What did we learn?”

“What this election proved is the entire community is very heavily positioned on one side or the other, and so this gives us an opportunity to bring everybody together,” said Kevin Bolding, president and CEO of YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh and 2017-19 advisory board nominee for GPNP, an advocacy arm of The Forbes Funds that represents more than 400 nonprofit groups.

In an election that stunned the world, Donald Trump became the first Republican U.S. presidential candidate to carry Pennsylvania since 1988. Trump's appeal proved to resonate with historically Democratic voters in places such as three blue-collar counties — Erie, Northhampton and Luzerne — where manufacturing jobs disappeared by the thousands.

Trump's victory sparked protests around the country and at college campuses such as University of Pittsburgh, where students rallied peacefully until almost 4 a.m. Nov. 9 and again Wednesday in the name of solidarity for minorities who say they feel threatened by lingering post-election tension and contention.

“There's fear because of the campaign, but what I've been hearing is that people that really want desperately to understand what will the policy agenda actually be,” Figlar said. “In philanthropy, we are in the business of hope — we're not in the business of politics — but ... we also have to really listen.”

Human-service agencies and nonprofits whose missions revolve around equity issues have voiced concern over fears felt by vulnerable groups they serve. They want to help prevent Trump's campaign-trail rhetoric that negatively stereotyped Muslims, women, gays, Hispanics, blacks, immigrants and others from getting normalized into everyday conversation — or worse yet, erupting into violent acts fueled by discrimination or hate.

Trump has called on anyone inciting violence or carrying out hateful acts to stop.

“There's clearly a lack of empathy ... in the broader picture, and I think that's really concerning — sort of forgetting to identify the people standing next to us as humans and as people,” said Emma Wallis, 30, a University of Pittsburgh graduate student. “I think we all can do better at that.”

It's essential, too, for those who did not support Trump to try to understand perspectives of Trump supporters or anyone with whom they disagree, multiple panelists said.

“We need to get better at having a dialogue,” said panelist Larry Davis, dean of University of Pittsburgh's School of Social Work and director of the Center on Race and Social Problems. “There needs to be a different kind of forum to talk about it, to share some information, without there being a loser at the end of it.”

Laura Ellsworth, one of Friday's panelists and a partner at the Jones Day law firm, said people need to value negotiated compromise as an achievement, not a failure. She pointed out that some 96 percent of legal cases get settled before going to court.

“Because they should. Because in order to move forward with life,” said Ellsworth, “everybody has to give a little bit.”

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me