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