Supporting a cause is central to the mission of most
nonprofit organizations in the United
States, but a lack of resources often forces lobbying and
advocacy to the back burner, according to a
roundtable of leaders and experts gathered by the Johns Hopkins
University Nonprofit Listening Post Project.
Besides having limited funds and small staffs to
devote to lobbying, nonprofit leaders also worry
that taking strong stances on the issues will offend their
donors and board members.
"Nonprofits are supposed to be the agents of democracy
and give voice to the powerless," said
Lester M. Salamon, director of the Listening Post Project
and of the Center for
Civil Society Studies
at the Johns Hopkins
Institute for Policy Studies. "But their ability to do
this is hampered by limited funding."
The roundtable brought together experts in nonprofit
advocacy and practitioners representing
both service organizations and intermediary organizations.
Participants explored nonprofit involvement
in the policy process and identified steps that might be
taken to boost the scope, scale and
effectiveness of policy advocacy.
Issues raised by participants included:
A lack of funding for nonprofit
advocacy and lobbying efforts.
Participants also identified steps that might be taken
to boost policy advocacy including:
Concerns that policy advocacy
efforts would be frowned upon by their local community,
offend their donor base or encounter board disapproval.
The need to strengthen and
underwrite the activities of advocacy coalitions and
intermediary groups, which are increasingly important in
nonprofit advocacy efforts.
Concerns that while nonprofits can
be somewhat effective in "playing defense" by
responding to a proposed policy or legislative cut, they
often lack the resources or sophistication
needed to develop new policy proposals.
Take a more strategic and
inventive approach by encouraging board members to tap into
their social networks, or by bringing the people whom the
organizations serve directly into lobbying
efforts to build greater credibility.
This roundtable grew out of a 2007 Listening Post
Project survey on nonprofit advocacy that
Integrate advocacy into all
aspects of an organization by including it in mission
statements, strategic plans, staff and board job
descriptions and budgets.
Encourage foundations to support
nonprofit policy advocacy and invest in local, state and
national nonprofit advocacy coalitions and intermediary
Learn to act strategically and
build long-term positive relationships between nonprofits
and government officials.
Rely on a wide range of tools, not
just e-mail but also blogs and social networking sites.
Educate legislators and the public
about the nonprofit sector's critical role in public
service and advocacy in order to build recognition of the
value of engaging nonprofit organizations in
the policy arena.
Eighty-five percent of responding
organizations spent less than 2 percent of their
budget on advocacy or lobbying.
The full text of a report summarizing findings that
emerged from the Roundtable on Nonprofit
Advocacy and Lobbying is available at:
Nearly three-fourths reported
undertaking some form of advocacy or lobbying, such as
signing correspondence to a public official. However, when
it came to more involved forms of
participation, such as testifying at hearings or organizing
a public event, the number reporting any
involvement fell to about a third.
The vast majority (90 percent)
agreed that "nonprofits have a duty to advocate for
policies important to their missions" and that
organizations like their own should be "more active and