Be Heard in the Robust Debate on Our Sector’s Advocacy Needs

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In today's online edition of The Chronicle of Philanthropy, I wrote that an “honest dialogue is long overdue to identify how best to meet the urgent advocacy needs of the nonprofit and foundation communities. Considering the clear and present policy threats and opportunities that nonprofits and foundations face throughout the country,” I call for “robust discussions about the urgent need to re-examine the alignment of policy resources in the charitable and foundation communities.”

Tim Delaney, President and CEO, National Council of Nonprofits

How can readers of Nonprofit Advocacy Matters and this website spark the needed conversations nationwide? It’s easy; as Arthur Ashe famously advised, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” Start where you are by looking at your immediate sphere of contacts and prompting discussions among staff colleagues and board members. Use what you have by distributing "Why We Must Improve Nonprofit Advoacy," which is designed “to share some key facts for consideration in the broader debate.” Give board members the Stand for Your Mission materials to show them how they can advance your organization’s mission by engaging in advocacy.

Schedule discussions at your next staff and board meetings. Consider how your nonprofit has been – or could be – hurt by policy decisions (e.g., can you afford to start paying new property taxes or fees, or do without charitable giving incentives?). Also discuss how your nonprofit could advance your mission through favorable policies. Discuss how policy threats and opportunities occur not just at the federal level, but more often in your own backyard, as shown in this analysis of the hot policy issues across the country in 2016.

But it’s not just nonprofits. Foundations need to engage in this nationwide debate as well. Foundation leaders can circulate the Chronicle article internally to prompt similar discussions about how foundation assets and decision-making are being targeted by policymakers – sometimes stealthily and indirectly by imposing more burdens on your grantees. And again, in your own backyard at the state and local levels, not just where you file your Form 990-PF. It’s also a good idea to share the article with your grantees and asking for their perspective about policy threats and opportunities, and about their advocacy needs.

Many of our readers are professional advisors to nonprofits. Accountants, circulate the article in your firms and at CE sessions. Then use what you have: knowledge to urge each of your nonprofit clients to take the 501(h) election so they move from the hazy “insubstantial” test to the safer bright-line expenditures test.

Attorneys, are you among those still passing along false lore about barriers to nonprofit advocacy? Or are you properly and proactively helping nonprofits fully use their First Amendment rights to petition their governments and use their moral duties to offer solutions to community problems in the grand tradition that our sector has done in the past?

It’s time to stop playing ostrich, ignoring reality, and pull our heads out to see the growing policy challenges. The discussion must be engaged far and wide, because the threats to those we serve are increasing. Some key questions: For nonprofits, are you alone, or joining with others through your state association of nonprofits to lift more voices collectively? For funders, are you investing as much or more in your state association of nonprofits and your regional association of grantmakers to fight the more frequent and steady policy battles that your grantees and colleagues face in your home state as you send off to multiple groups in DC?

We’d like to know what you think about the need to re-align policy resources needed to protect and advance the charitable nonprofit and foundation communities? Please ask yourself, your board members, staff members, colleagues, funders, grantees, and anyone who will answer: What are our advocacy needs and how can we best meet them. It’s your future, so do what you can by having a say in creating what you see is needed. 

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