Resolutions for the new year

By Abby Levine

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?

And, if we begin a new year without making New Year’s resolutions, does the new year really begin?

We’re not ones to tempt fate, so we offer up the following suggestions for New Year resolutions, for all charities and foundations.

We challenge every foundation and public charity to make – and carry out – at least one of these resolutions.

For foundations:

* Become so familiar with the differences between advocacy and lobbying that you can rattle them off in your sleep.

Lobbying is one form of advocacy, but organizations can do much to influence policy without engaging in lobbying.

Federal tax law restricts lobbying, but not all forms of advocacy.

* Planning to go to the gym to lose some extra pounds?

Take your grant agreements along and have them lose unnecessary restrictive language that prohibits nonprofit lobbying.

Stop constraining your grantees by unnecessarily prohibiting them from using your grant funds for lobbying.

Lobbying prohibitions only stifle your grantees; they do not offer greater protection for your foundation.

* Take the time to look for gifts people really want.

Fund more advocacy and lobbying projects through general support or specific project grants.

It allows your money to have more tangible impact on policy, and your foundation can do it without jeopardizing its tax-exempt status.

For nonprofits:

* Expand your horizons.

Specifically allocate resources, including money and staff, for advocacy when developing your work plans and budgets for the new year.

Advocacy increases your impact and enhances your direct services.

* Pump up your community.

Encourage every member, donor and supporter of your organization to register to vote and get out to vote in upcoming elections.

Nonprofits cannot tell people how to vote, but you may urge them to vote.

* Make new friends: Join a coalition on an issue important to your mission.

Working in coalition is a great way to do some advocacy work, and you do not need to take the lead or be the expert.

You can learn about new issues, grow your network and educate your members, clients and constituents about more issues.

New Year’s resolutions help us set goals, challenge us beyond our comfort zone, and commit us to further our success.

They help us seize control and make our dreams a reality.

As we enter 2006, take charge: Positive change can occur by resolving to try one of these suggestions.

Abby Levine is Foundation Counsel for the Alliance for Justice in Washington, D.C.

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