Developing a Nonprofit Advocacy Agenda


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Nonprofits membership associations must bring their members along to be most effective in fulfilling their mission. This presentation walks one association through these considerations and provides a broader context for advocacy.

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  • Thank you. Good to see familiar facesFor those who don’t know you, though I’d share my background:Went to law school and pursued a decades long career in envt’l law and policy.And when you worked in the environmental arena, it was just a given that you advocated. advocacy was in the DNA of every environmental organization.Then I did some soul searching and switched gears and came to Donors Forum. And spent 5 years convincing nonprofits they could advocate, and ultimately helping nonprofits to do so by buiding their capacity at the same time, I was leading DF thru the creation & development of a brand new advocacy program that fundamentally changed the way we were doing our work. It was imperative during that time to bring all the membership along, to get everyone on the same page---The absolute bottom line I learned from my experience at Donors Forum is this: advocacy requires leadership.Too often advocacy is feared, ignored, misunderstood or viewed as optional due to a lack of understanding, a lack of focus, and most critically a lack of leadership including reluctant boards, staff and fundersIN fact, the lessons I learned at Donors Forum left such an impression, I decided to create my logo around them!. If there’s nothing else you learn today remember this: Connecting advocacy firmly to your mission requires leadership. As you’ll see in a minute it’s the glue that makes it all possible.Roadmap for today
  • I had the opportunity to talk with both John and Pat Davenport. And my impression is that Since coming together informally through the Lake County Community Foundation the Alliance has coalesced into a group of committed leaders intent on raising the profile of human services in Lake County to lawmakers.Taking a leadership roleTo ensure the quality of life for people in our communities, The Alliance will:Promote collaborationEnable the delivery of innovative, sustainable programs and accessible services.Advocate for the human service sectorUltimately, it seeks to ensure that all Lake County health and human service agencies have the resources and capacities to effectively meet the needs of the county’s diverse communities. The consensus has been that we want to do these 3 things---so the question is how do we decide what to focus on while exercising our commitment to leadership?.
  • And that’s your job----You are here to help us focus---As a membership organization, the members and the Board in particular have an important job in helping determine how you create an advocacy agenda and program that provides value to your members.
  • Before we meet with lawmakers or define an agenda, we need to know in what direction we are heading with our advocacy efforts.It’s a basic concept but one that really drives the rest of the work.What are we trying to accomplish? We want to share information about the Alliance---ok, but to what end. What are trying to change in the world, and how will we do that, that is unique to us and provides value? Those are some of the questions we will be tackling today
  • As a membership organization, its imperative everyone is on the same page. That we all have the same understanding on the direction we are heading. Depending on where your members are coming from and what experience they bring, they may be very different. Catholic Charities approach is likely to be very different from a small, local service provider.
  • So how do we get to the same understanding?By focusing on the What, How and Why of Advocacy What’s possible, what issues are we interested in and are we prepared?How do we both plan and exercise leadership – to ensure we get where we are going---And most importantly the Why – why advocacy makes senses a strategy for the AllianceI hope today is seen as the beginning of a process the Alliance Board along with the Advocacy Committee will continue to go deeper than we have in 45 minutes.
  • Before we know where we’re going… we need to know what’s possible with advocacy. More specifically we need to know what’s permissible, what we care about and what our capacity is to engage.
  • Advocacy can take on many forms, include educating policymakers and the public about broad social issues, encouraging people to register to vote, organizing communities, educating voters about the issues.Lobbying is just one form of advocacy that an organization may engage in to achieve its particular goalsThe fact is that nonprofits, even 501(c)(3) organizations, which are the most restricted type of nonprofits, may legally lobby!Lobbying is perfectly legal.There are 3 important legal parameters to know about lobbying: how do I know when I’m doing it, how much of it can I do and what can I absolutely not do.With the exception of lobbying and partisan political activities, all of the forms of advocacy listed above are unrestricted and unlimited for 501(c)(3) public charities.
  • Something that is often lost in the discussion about whether public charities can lobby or want to lobby is the fact that lobbying, under federal tax law, it is a specifically defined activity. Congress wants nonprofits to lobby!And its important to know that just having a conversation with a legislator is not automatically lobbying!Despite the existence of a clearly defined law, there is still a widespread perception that nonprofits cannot lobby, or if they do lobby, they are exploiting some kind of legal loophole.Getting involved in the legislative process and having a say in policy discussions is not just an appropriate role for nonprofits; it is vital. If nonprofits are not speaking on behalf of their often-vulnerable communities, chances are nobody else is either.Here is a quick 4 point check on lobbyingDirect Lobbying Grassroots – same + call to actionCommunicationwith a Legislatorthat expresses a View about Specific Legislation
  • Electioneering – Getting involved in or taking sides during an electionPartisan activities – only advocating for a partiuclar political partyBoth activities are forbidden.
  • To determine how much they can lobby, 501(c)(3) public charities first must choose how they will measure their lobbying limits. There are two ways for public charities to measure their lobbying: the insubstantial part test and the 501(h) expenditure test.The Alliance can and should pick the 501h election to or measuring how much time it may spend on advocacy.The insubstantial part test is the default test that applies if the public charity does not make the affirmative step of electing to use 501(h) . Unfortunately, the IRS has not provided guidance on what is an appropriate "insubstantial" amount of lobbying, and has not defined what exactly it considers to be lobbying under this test. The 501h) expenditure test provides charities with guidance on how much lobbying they can conduct.Clear dollar limits apply to lobbying. Depending on the amount of an organization's exempt purpose expenditures, a charity can generally spend up to 20 percent of its annual expenditures on lobbying. There are also clear definitions of what constitutes lobbyingn
  • Since then 2011 when we agreed to form a]theLeadership Task Force, we’ve done alot-We were successful in our bid to become the navigator for the ACA contract and have begun enrolling people-And we came together to collaborate around a common database for service providers for the homelessAnd the -Advocacy Committee made a decision to move forward with an advocacy program, including lobbying and legislative advocacy.As we heard there are various issues we might focus on:
  • There’s the issue of poverty and immigration that comes together in Lake County.Having good data is critical to adding legitimacy to your advocacy efforts. And you’re foturnate to have a wealth of data from Lake County Community Foundation.Tens of thousands of residents are below the poverty line, and their numbers have been growing steadily both in absolute terms and as a  percentage of the county population ---but are funding has not increased.According to research conducted by the Lake County Community Foundation, Immigrants have a poverty rate that is double that of the native-born population,population And Latinos are also the fastest growing part of the population---what are the implications for how we approach advancing solutions to the funding gap knowing this?Meeting the needs of Lake County Latinos is critical to ensuring that the county as a whole reaches its full potential
  • IFF did this first of a kind study which can be tremendously useful to your advocacy efforts.Overallfinding: Many moreagencieshave permanent sitelocations in the eastern and southeasternareas of the county.  Providers of affordablehousing services canservefewerthan 5% of low-incomeresidents. Transportationis the biggestreportedbarrier to services and veryfewnonprofitclientsareaccessing services via public transportation. Whatare the implicaitons for howthisinformationmightimpactouradvocacyefforts to bridge the service gaps? Should we thinkaboutcollaborating with transportation service providers for instance ?
  • Set to expire in 2014Will result in $5 billion lossSignificant implications for human servicesAnother related issue to this is Budgeting for Results – the state’s new approach to budgeting. Are your members prepared to demonstrate and show their impact. What will our role be?This is an important issue that should be formally decided at the board level and a position statement drafted so you can be as clear as possible when communciatign with lawmakers
  • Before we go too far down the road we need to make sure as an organization we are ready to engage in advocacy. Nonprofits need to build advocacy more explicitly intothe infrastructure of their organizations and boards. Asmany participants emphasized that major impediments tononprofit advocacy and lobbying are internal to nonprofitorganizations, they noted that nonprofits need to makeinternal, structural changes if they want to increase theirinvolvement. Participants stressed making advocacy apriority and slowly building it into the character and cultureof an organization. (West Coast Listening Project – Johns Hopkins 2011)What does it mean to “be ready?” . A few things come to mine:Board understands and is firmly committed to advocacyWe have the infrastructure or policies and systems clearly defined and in place –clear lines of responsibilities and authorities, including who is responsible for tracking our lobbying time. This will make the Board’s job easier. We believe advocacy is important to achieving our goals? adopted positons Positions have been adopted to govern and address important process considerations
  • .There are 4 essential roles board members play:Governance:Participate in and enrich strategic planning for advocacy workDetermine the strategic direction and priorities. Allocate resourcesLegally, obligated to ensure obligations to track lobbyins occurs---filing of appropriate forms.Advocate and Lobby! As community members and volunteers, Alliance board members make the best spokespeople for the Allance. The should be called upon to help leverage their networks for both fundraising and making introductions
  • Drilling down a bit more. If these aren’t already in place, the Alliance should developA Public Policy Committee Charter, highlighting ht roles and rpsonsibilites of the committee, composition details and terms of servicesAnd a policy for when and how the Alliance will take a position on policy issues. What are the criterias and what is the process for getting there? You may also want to consider developing guiding principles for when you will take positions. They should be broad and not tied to specific issues.
  • As we’ve discussed the most salient capacity for an advocacy program is leadership. Leadership that will motivate and persuade others to join and is capable of creating strong relationships with community leaders is key.The second capacity is the abilty to adapt---or respond to the shifting landscape, and windows of opportunity. The ability to develop strategic relationships and to monitor and measure progress against goals.The interplay between these two is the most critical to ensuring the success of an advocacy organization. Adaptive leaders, share leadership with the Board and staff and have a strong strategic vision for the organizationAdaptive capacity refers to the ability to monitor the environment and respond, to share information about advocacy across the oragnization and to ensure we have the right technical skills and resources in place to implement our strategies.
  • So now that we have a broader overview of “what” advocacy includesWe should consider How will we do the work, including focusing in and decide what issues to work onOne answer is by exercising leadership. Which requires courage and an appetite for risk to have our voice heard. The other is by taking inventory of our mission vision and value including attracting the right people and keeping the right onesHaving piercing clarity about our mission, vision and values so we can set goals that align with that.3. an ability to assess our strengths and leverage them to do the most good and target the right influencers.By answering these questions we are doing the pre work for developing an advocacy agendaso we can begin to focus in on the issues we care most about, and how we can leverage our strengths to have the most impact and
  • In Jim Collin’s book: Good to Great for the Social Sector he emphasizes this concept: the imperative of before you know where you’re going, its critical to have the right people on the bus. Do you know who those are? Who you need to bring along with you.Since collaboration and coordination are 2 of the Alliance’s 3 priorities this is even more critical.And as a membership association---which members do you need firmly on board with your advocacy strategies? Who can help create other champions, leverage their networks and help advance the cause? Who can help attract and provide resources?Those you want on the bus share your same core values
  • One way to answer this question is by doing A stakeholder analysis An analysis allows you to prioritize who shares your concern for the issues, and what they can do and how you can persuade them to join.You may have different stakeholders for each goal.Set up a system for identifying them and tracking them, so you can share relevant information Teach them how to communicate with elected officials, share your informatino with them and keep them informed about when decisions will be made.
  • Also In Jim Collin’s book Good to Great he outlines a new paradigm he discovered in all the top performing for profit and not for profit organiation’s he studied: He called it the Hedgehog Concept.This concept asks 3 key questions;
  • This is the mission and it came from the Alliance’s website.I included it to get us thinking whether it The Building Bridges program seeks to:
  • Going to have us first review and reflect on the mission and vision and then ask a few questionsVisions are meant to inspire and movitate and help you to focus. When you start down the road of advocacy they serve as your guiding light by answering if things were to change, what would be different, whose lives would be improved, how?Visions can also help us evaluate alternative solutionsAnd serve as a sustaining force for the longer term, transformative change
  • There are any number of answers we could provide address, from those that impact providers to those that impact our recipients.So now, let’s try and spend a few minutes answering the question:
  • Once we have decided what we care most about and are best at, we need to review the possible arenas of influence where your issues might be deiced and determine a strategy for targettng.We need to determine who they are--- and prioritize based on where key issues will be decided.Are they in the legislative, executive or administrative branches?Share this informaiton and educate all our members. Others to consider:-gubenatorial candidates -DHS-members of Congress
  • Policy and advocacy work makes sense because it’s the single most effective way to advance your mission. And there’s a lot changing in the landscape that is impacting those you serve. Its not enough to just doGood by serving……Advocacy affects sytemic change on the issues you care about
  • It’s a strategy for leadershipI said at the beginning that your job here was to help us focus…..All of by virtue of your position are leaders……The question I hope the Board will continue to wrestle with after today---is what are we committed to doing? And how will we get there?
  • Since 2008, there’s a new normal, and nonprofit social service providers are feeling the squeeze, in the form of late payment, insufficient payment, greater scrutiny of operations,and even less capacity at the State level to administer the programs that we help deliver.That means a lot of added stress for providers.In IL for the psat decade we’ve underfunded human services by $4 billion dollarsAnd we are #1 in the country according to Urban Institute for late payments to providers. Until we develop enough revenue that will contineu to be the case.
  • In addition, there are any number of policy trends and changes that impact how we deliver services, and the quality we are able to provideAdvocacy allows us to protect our interest while also bringing transparency to the work we do and having our voices heard.
  • Engaging in advocacy is the single most effective strategy you can pursue for impactIt enhances all the other ways you do your work..By taking a public stand on issues, you’re increasing your organization’s visibility and clout, resulting in increased donations, funding, interst in volunteering and other Possible sources of support for your mission
  • In Forces for Good, perhaps the most seminal book documenting the impact of advocacy,Authors Leslie Crutchfield and Heather McLeod, detail the 6 practices of high performing nonprofits, and advocacy is one of them.The other practice is nurturing networks and sharing leadershipSo the good news is that the Alliance is exercising both of these.
  • You’ll recall that when we set out we asked where do we want to go?
  • And to do that we needed to gain a common understanding
  • Of What’s possibleHow do we get where we are going---or the planning involvedAnd finally reminding ourselves Why we choose advocacy as a strategy
  • Developing a Nonprofit Advocacy Agenda

    1. 1. Toward a Common Agenda Laurel O’Sullivan, The Advocacy Collaborative, LLC The Alliance for Human Services, Quarterly Meeting January 24, 2014
    2. 2. January 24, 2013
    3. 3. We agreed to advocate now what? P Slide Title October 23, 2013
    4. 4. January 24, 2013
    5. 5. Where Do We Want to Go? January 24, 2013
    6. 6. Frehs specturm January 24, 2013
    7. 7. January 24, 2013
    8. 8. January 24, 2014
    9. 9. There’s a lot we can do, Research Policymaker outreach Lobbying Advocacy Media Outreach Public education Coalition building Policymaker education January 24, 2014
    10. 10. We need to know when we are lobbying Bill/referendum/ballot measure Elected official/executive office/staff Opinion Ask (Grassroots) January 24, 2014
    11. 11. Here’s 2 things we cannot do! Electioneering Partisan Activities January 24, 2014
    12. 12. We need to track our time spent lobbying Insubstantial Part Test – Vague  501hpreferred! January 24, 2014
    13. 13. Let’s review what the Committee has discussed January 24, 2014
    14. 14. We will educate policymakers on implications of Funding Gap Proportionate decrease in funding Increasing rates of poverty among Latinos and children January 24, 2014
    15. 15. We will educate policymakers on service/needs gap January 24, 2014
    16. 16. We will support the temp income tax increase January 24, 2014
    17. 17. We need to be sure we are prepared January 24, 2014
    18. 18. The Board has a critical leadership role to play January 24, 2014
    19. 19. We need to make sure we have the right systems in place • Policies and Systems: • Governance • Committee structures • Position statement – process • Guiding Principles January 24, 2014
    20. 20. Adapative Capacity Leadership January 24, 2014
    21. 21. The “How” of advocacy: pre- planning January 24, 2014
    22. 22. “Who” before “What” January 24, 2014
    23. 23. We need to know who our stakeholders are People and groups that will benefit from a proposed law People and groups that will benefit form your organization’s success People and groups that influence opinion and make decisions January 24, 2014
    24. 24. We need to set the right goals that align with our mission, vision and values January 24, 2014
    25. 25. continually improving the quality of human services available in Lake County, Illinois January 24, 2014
    26. 26. What’s our vision? Enable the delivery of innovative sustainable programs and accessible services Advocate for the human service sector Promote collaboration To ensure the quality of life for people in our communities, The Alliance will take a leadership role to: January 24, 2014
    27. 27. Leadership Building capacity of our members Increasing membership Access to Health Care Immigration Reform Prompt Payment State Budget – more funding Innovatio n Alleviating income in equality Coordination of client services Service Value for our members January 24, 2014
    28. 28. We need to set the right goals that align with our mission, vision and values January 24, 2014
    29. 29. We need to leverage our strengths and identify targets January 24, 2014
    30. 30. Why - advocacy? January 24, 2014
    31. 31. Slide Title October
    32. 32. The landscape is changing January 24, 2014
    33. 33. Federal Federal government shut down, diviseness over funding ACA and debt ceiling extension State Medicaidization of the budget, deficit, chronic budget shortfalls Local Vast inequalities, service gaps, growing immigrant population, static funding January 24, 2014
    34. 34. It’s a strategy for impact January 24, 2013
    35. 35. Policy Advocacy • Greater impact through legislation • Increased credibility and influence • Government funding Direct Service • Greater on the ground impact • Grassroots support • Channels for implementing ideas January 24, 2014
    36. 36. Where Do We Want to Go? January 24, 2013
    37. 37. Frehs specturm January 24, 2013
    38. 38. January 24, 2013