NN Capacity Builder
All too often I hear from nonprofit leadership that they are afraid to speak out on what they see as political issues. Generally, the fears fall into two categories. First, they are afraid they will get their IRS tax status revoked for being ‘political’ and second, they are concerned about public perceptions of their organization being too political or partisan, possibly costing them donors.
Let us start with a discussion about what lobbying is and what it isn’t. The IRS defines lobbying narrowly. There are two kinds of lobbying, direct and grassroots. Direct Lobbying is direct contact with elected officials or their staff to try and enact specific legislation. Grassroots Lobbying is attempting to sway public opinion on legislation. The IRS also recognizes that some lobbying by a 501c3 is permissible, so long as it isn’t a major part of its work. For example, when I worked for Cornell, once a year I made a trip to Albany to request a budget increase in the state budget for education. That was the only lobbying I did, and thus, it was not a major part of my work.
Advocacy, however, is something ALL nonprofits should be doing, especially now.
Advocacy includes a broad range of activities focused on the changes you want to see made without saying ‘vote for this bill.’ You can present your research, you can write papers, you can show evidence, arrange a protest or march, and schedule time to meet with your elected representatives all without it being lobbying. You can also share all the reasons you support specific legislation, and so long as you don’t ask them to vote a certain way, it isn’t lobbying, it is education.
Members of nonprofit leadership are some of the best people to advocate on behalf of the issues facing our communities. We work in the trenches and see the problems facing our communities first hand. Frequently, we’re the first people responding to those needs. We serve the people who all too often don’t have the political capital or frankly the time to advocate to politicians. But when their voices are heard they can be particularly powerful. We all know how difficult it is for those working multiple hourly jobs to meet their basic needs already. Finding a way to bring people along with you for an advocacy trip, though, can not only help to break down stereotypes, it can also open everyone’s eyes to the need to engage with our elected officials.
Plan. Create. Engage. Action. Momentum
Here are some things you can do to make an advocacy campaign as effective as possible:
A lot of times, people are nervous about meeting with their elected representatives. The more you do it, the more you come to understand that they are people, too. Many of them got into politics because of a desire to make the world a better place for the people they represent. Assume good intentions and don’t ever give up. Together, we can all make the world a better place.
If your organization needs help call (517-796-4750) or email us Info@Nonprofnetwork.org today for an appointment, we'd be happy to discuss a plan with you.
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