This Special “Behind-the-Scenes” Edition
With thousands of new subscribers signing up for Nonprofit Advocacy Matters every year since we launched this newsletter in 2010, we publish this special edition to thank all our readers by laying out the whys and wherefores of the publication, while offering practical insights on how you can use each edition as a tool to advance your missions. This behind-the-scenes view of what we affectionately call AdMat shares:
- Why we write this bi-weekly policy newsletter (and occasional special editions) for nonprofit readers;
- What we do to ensure this publication contains relevant, trustworthy, timely, and practical information;
- Where types of information appear in the structure, so you can find what you want and need; and
- How you can use the newsletter’s content to strengthen your advocacy, both for your own organization as well as for the broader nonprofit community of which you are an important part.
To avoid interfering with any pressing policy news, we’ve timed this special-insight edition for now, before Congress, state legislatures, and administrations reach full throttle. Look for this year’s first regular edition next Monday, January 17.
Why We Produce This Newsletter
To be successful, nonprofits – just like for-profit businesses and governmental entities – need a supportive and reliable policy environment in which to operate. Nonprofits can be neither efficient nor effective in improving the lives of individuals and strengthening communities when governments are undercutting their ability to function, such as by tampering with charitable giving incentives, imposing taxes on tax-exempt organizations, encroaching on nonprofits’ independence and decision-making, and adopting costly or unreasonable regulations. Nonprofits need timely access to the latest information about policy threats and opportunities that AdMat provides in order to be able to advocate for their missions.
This newsletter serves as a critical part of the flywheel of both gathering information from and sharing analyses with the nonprofit community about emerging policy challenges and developments. The articles presented in each edition reflect the scope of the work of the National Council of Nonprofits as we engage with our nonprofit networks and other across the country to identify and evaluate public policy developments at the federal, state, and local levels and then advocate for (and alongside) nonprofits in legislative bodies, regulatory agencies, and the courts.
In each edition, we share information so nonprofits can learn about and track items enabling them to take action as they see fit. A few times each year, we use AdMat to solicit and collect valuable information and insights from you to inform policymakers and other advocates, thereby turning the newsletter into a conduit for nonprofits of all types to share their insights to build a stronger advocacy muscle for the community. Other times we use it to announce Action Alerts so nonprofits know it’s time to engage on particular policy threats or opportunities.
Content That Is Relevant, Trustworthy, Timely, and Practical
Every article we consider for this newsletter must meet three criteria:
First, an article must relate to all or most charitable nonprofits and foundations, and not just one subsector. In making this judgment, we look to see if a seemingly narrow topic could morph into a sector-wide issue. As we view it, if the matter doesn’t affect the work of a critical mass of our readers, then we’d be wasting your time. We are committed to not wasting your time.
Next, articles must be fact-based, not ungrounded opinion. We focus on how policies affect nonprofits, not whether a policy proposed or opposed by politicians might help or hurt them in their next election. Inevitably, politicians from a political party will all line up on one side or another of an issue. If we believe something is good or bad for the nonprofit community, we will say so; partisan posturing by politicians will not silence us from speaking the truth as we see it. As the longstanding law protecting nonprofit nonpartisanship (Johnson Amendment) recognizes, 501(c)(3) organizations can engage in policy matters – just not in partisan political campaign activities for or against a candidate for public office.
The third criteria asks: Is the information presented in a practical way that people in the real world can use? One aspect is timeliness – making sure information is presented when useful. Another aspect concerns translation: we believe information is of little use if it’s just a link to a government document without any context or interpretation. Similarly, it’s not helpful if written in legalese or dense jargon. We are committed to analyzing policy matters thoroughly from the nonprofit perspective, and translating complicated policy matters into practical knowledge that’s tailored for nonprofits to apply immediately to be more effective practitioners and advocates.
In short, our bias is nonprofits; our obsession is accuracy, clarity, and nonpartisanship.
The AdMat Structure
Our goal with each edition is to provide readers with the need-to-know, ought-to-know, and want-to-know information that will enable charitable nonprofits to advance their missions. As the newsletter's name implies, we put a strong emphasis on advocacy as a key tool in getting that done. The following structure is designed to facilitate this knowledge sharing:
The Sidebar: The right-hand column is chock full of quotes worth repeating; important and insightful articles, studies, videos, and podcasts worth reading/studying/watching/listening; interesting numerical data points; and key events, trainings, and conferences worth attending to enhance advocacy messaging and effectiveness. We recognize that sometimes quality, useful information is only a click away, so we strive to share those resources with you.
“Above the Fold”: In some, but not all, editions, the top article in the main body is a particularly important item that we place as the lead to make sure you see it. The items may be Action Alerts, opportunities for you to weigh in on proposed regulations, special requests for information, or a host of other things that deserve your attention.
Federal Issues: Articles in this portion identify what’s happening in Congress or federal agencies that matters to nonprofits and dig deeper into relevant legislative, regulatory, and judicial matters. A special subsection, Federal FastView, provides short need-to-know information about narrower issues that may not affect all readers and shares links to the experts and leaders on the covered topics.
State and Local Issues: Reflecting the frequent observation that “most policy action is in the states,” we strive to ensure that Nonprofit Advocacy Matters provides the most comprehensive and consistent coverage of nonprofit policy challenges and advances at the state and local levels. Articles typically address trends across several states, highlight bad ideas before legislatures or city councils that call for effective advocacy, and report on developments that nonprofits can replicate in their states. In this section, we frequently relate active challenges to nonprofit property-tax exemptions (Taxes, Fees, PILOTs) and provide updates in efforts to improve government treatment of nonprofits providing services on their behalf (Government-Nonprofit Contracting Reforms).
Advocacy in Action: Pick your cliché, the Advocacy in Action feature is where “the rubber hits the road” and where we feature nonprofits not only “talking the talk,” but also “walking the walk.” For us, it’s not enough just to report what’s going on. Here, we share the inspiration of advocacy activities by practitioners around the country. Advocacy in Action articles in 2018 featured innovations in the areas of relationship building, messaging and communications, subject-matter expertise, policy development, grassroots mobilization, and more. The articles don’t just end the newsletter on a high note (which they do); they also encourage us (and hopefully you) to identify and learn from everyday advocacy successes that are mission-centered and proof that advocacy works.
How You Can Use the Information
In addition to informing nonprofits about the hottest policy threats and opportunities so they can take action, we also want to help raise overall awareness about both the important role of nonprofits in American life and the importance of having a stable and supportive policy environment for nonprofits. Recognizing this content, professors often assign Nonprofit Advocacy Matters to their students, just as executive directors of nonprofits occasionally encourage their board members to subscribe. Many journalists regularly review the latest edition for leads and background on breaking stories. Foundation program officers subscribe to learn about what their grantees are facing. And the list goes on.
Today’s incentive systems – for grants, donations, staff, and volunteers – pressure nonprofits to try to distinguish themselves from others. Too often that individualism extends to the policy arena, in which separate entities or subsectors fragment off and pursue legislation or regulations that benefit them in a narrow, fragmented way. The constant drumbeat to be different comes at a very high price for the community as a whole. Yet we all know that nonprofits share much in common when it comes to public policy. We all want consistent and strong charitable giving incentives, recognition of our tax-exempt status, respect for our legal independence, and more. Nonprofit Advocacy Matters is designed as a tool to help all nonprofits work together to protect the “policy commons” on which we all depend.