February 05, 2020

pov: We Are a Community

We are smack in the middle of the Legislative session here in Utah. It’s an electric time and the intensity of the electricity depends on your own personal feelings about how our elected officials are performing. This blog post will not be about that. Instead I want to focus broadly on community and UNA’s value statement around community.

We build Community that values people over things and supports nonprofits, the people of Utah, and it’s resources.

It seems basic, I know but if you’re reading this you have a vested interest in the sector and/or are likely employed by or volunteer at a nonprofit; making each of us agents of change and action in the nonprofit sector. We have all recently experienced the resounding community mobilization of the repeal on the tax on food. This is one large example of how a community can band together to communicate a message. Many of the people advocating for this measure, collecting signatures, and signing the petition were likely people from our nonprofit community. Now, love or hate the proposed tax on food, there is a reality rooted this action – that together we are stronger and together our voice is louder. And that is why it’s so important to build relationships with everyone in your community.

When we think of this nonprofit community it’s important to bring in people from all aspects of our life including the obvious clients we serve (including the multi-legged animals that we love to snuggle with and birds we watch with enjoyment), the volunteers who graciously give their time, our staff who selflessly give their passions every day, and our financial supporters that help our budgets go ‘round. But generally there is one group that tends to be an afterthought – and that group is our elected officials.  

For twelve years now UNA has been hosting Nonprofit Day on the Hill (which happens to be this Friday, February 7) and what I love about this event is that we create space and training for people in the nonprofit sector to break down the barriers of engagement with our state elected officials. Because let’s face it, it is uncomfortable and embarrassing to walk into spaces that are unfamiliar. Speaking from experience, I always feel somewhat like an imposter during the legislative session when I go to Capitol Hill – everyone is walking fast and headed to their destination with purpose. No one but me seems to get lost or turned around when trying to find the bathroom. These things are real and silly and very much what we work to dismantle here at UNA.

In preparation of the annual event, we bring participants together to cover what nonprofits can and can’t do in the lobbying space and we help them identify who their state House and Senate elected officials are. Every year I am surprised how many people do not know who is elected to represent them. And for me there is an inherent problem with that because our elected officials (at all levels) make decisions that impact us daily. Such as: the start time of our schools, the taxes taken out of our paychecks or paid at the register, the location of crosswalks and parks, and even noise ordinances.

And I make no judgements because truth is there was a time when I didn’t realize that we only had 2 U.S. Senators and that both of them covered the state. It was unclear to me. And, what is even more remarkable about the situation is that I am a regular voter and have been since I turned 18 so it’s not like I wasn’t casting votes for U.S. Senators; I was simply unaware of the connection.

But that is why, here at UNA we spend a decent amount of time helping people learn who their elected officials are and where they can find that information – including federal, state, and local elected officials. These people, love or hate them depending on your political temperature, are part of our agents of change here in our communities. It is incumbent on each of us to know who is on our ballot, know who was elected following the election, and begin developing a relationship with them.

A couple weeks ago we held our Nonprofit Day on the Hill prep day at the Capitol and we did a tour. We pointed out the House and Senate Chambers and where to access the balcony, we pointed out the location of the many bathrooms and where the cafeteria was, we even stopped in at the Governor’s office and were welcomed and told that we have a friend there.

And this is what I mean about bringing the entire nonprofit community together for a common purpose of supporting nonprofits. Because it doesn’t matter where you stand politically, people engaging in politicking are making decisions that impact your life and the nonprofits you love and serve. Have a say. Develop a dialogue. Be supportive when you can. Speak up when necessary. The first step is as easy as an email introducing yourself and finding some common ground as an ice breaker. Our elected officials want to hear from us. The next step is yours.

Find your State House and Senate Representatives here.

Google your county clerk’s office; there you can find a comprehensive list of local and federal representatives. If you are in Salt Lake County click here.

Kate Rubalcava
Utah Nonprofits Association