Presidential Transitions: 5 Ways to Move from Election Politics to Good Public Policy

May 26, 2021
Presidential Transitions: 5 Ways to Move from Election Politics to Good Public Policy

Presidential transitions and executive transitions at the state level for governors are critical periods for nonprofits to mobilize and intensify advocacy. Once the transfer of power is complete from one administration to another, critical decisions have already been made at the pre-election, post-election, and post-inauguration phases. Thus, it is ideal for nonprofits to attempt to maintain communication with the administration at all phases of the transfer of power. 

Once the transfer of power has occurred though, administrations move to operationalize their policy priorities. Accordingly, they begin to reorient government tools, such as regulations, grant requirements, funding mechanisms, cutting or restructuring programs, modifying policy and program objectives, and reworking accountability structures. However, if new administrations do not receive input from the nonprofit community, there could be several unintended consequences that could negatively impact the constituents of your organization's services, your organization, and the field as a whole. This is a particularly important consideration now in the face of a political environment that has moved away from problem-solving and into rigid ideological battles.

In 2018, I conducted a survey, which, among other things, examined transitions across political administrations. The participants indicated that nonprofits should provide input on proposed changes to ensure potential cuts are more strategic. This is essential because new political administrations do not understand the needs of communities or how organizations work. When done in a vacuum, cutting or modifying programs can negatively impact a significant number of people who rely on those services. Respondents indicated that changes in policy and funding cuts should aim to minimize harm and should be staggered so as to ensure that organizations can adapt to policy and funding changes.

Presidential Transitions – Action in 5 Steps

Nonprofits have been working with their constituents for many years. Therefore, they should be sitting at the table when policies that impact their clients are discussed. The following are 5 steps you can use in your advocacy efforts during presidential or gubernatorial transitions to help new political administrations: 

  1. Introduce yourself to both members of the transition team and new administration members in the government department or division you are interested in working with. Reach out to them, offer assistance and information, and help them understand some of your needs and concerns as they relate to your constituents. 
  2. Work with coalitions or advocacy groups in your field to advance your policy agenda. Oftentimes, administrations prefer to hear from coalitions or established advocacy groups to help them develop their agenda priorities. As a relationship of trust develops, government administrators prefer to rely on these groups as their primary source of information on a topic. This not only minimizes the number of stakeholders they have to interact with, but they often rely on them for data and facts about specific policy issues. 
  3. Make sure that you gather information beforehand to understand the policy priorities of the new administration and identify the real decision-makers. Find out who the real decision-makers are. Research what factors the policy brokers are likely to prioritize. Assess where the power lies, and how decision-making occurs in that department. Some political appointees are very involved in decision-making while others prefer more involvement from civil servants. Also, remember that your nonprofit advocacy plan should aim to influence both the decision-makers and the supporting staff and civil servants that advise them. It is important to engage them because even if the decision maker is on board, staff members in key positions that do not support your initiative can pose significant obstacles. They can convince the decision-maker that staff time is better utilized in other initiatives, and they can classify your issue as a low priority, which means no meaningful or swift action will be taken.
  4. Be clear on your wants and needs. Triage your priorities and focus on your needs instead of your wants. Are you looking to protect what you have now or do you want to start a conversation to address the long-term needs of your constituents? Do you want enhancements in funding or to remove regulatory obstacles? Do you want procedural or policy tool changes? Are there unmet needs at the moment that should be prioritized? You should also know which policies are currently working or need to be enacted, what your top negotiation points will be, the language you will use to make your points, how to respond to counterarguments, and which concessions you are willing to make.
  5. Have a clear advocacy strategy and be prepared to make concise policy asks. You should be clear on your policy priorities, and the solution you are seeking, and be prepared to clearly articulate the policy interventions you want to be enacted or avoided. This includes specifying whether you are seeking a legislative, regulatory, legal, or administrative remedy. If you leave the solution up to new administration members, they might not address the issues you are concerned about in your nonprofit advocacy or lobbying initiative in a manner that is aligned with your needs


Many nonprofits often take a “wait and see” approach when presidential transitions occur or new political administrations at the state level come into the office. However, this approach often results in organizations trying to mitigate the unintended consequences of misinformed policy decisions. This is why it is so critical that nonprofits are involved from the beginning of a transition. 

Share Your Story

Please share your experiences with presidential or gubernatorial transitions. Share a moment in which there were unintended consequences due to uninformed policy or a time when you were able to influence policy brokers in a positive manner.

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