Policy work is critical for nonprofits

By Rob Schofield

On March 3, nearly 200 representatives of North Carolina’s nonprofit sector gathered in Cary for the N.C. Center for Nonprofits’ 2006 Public Policy Forum.

As has been reported previously in the Philanthropy Journal, the event provided a rare and important opportunity for members of the state’s nonprofit community to gather, hear the forecasts of respected analysts and advocates, and see and interact with important policymakers.

As the chief organizer of the event, I’ve been heartened by the comments of a large number of attendees who expressed satisfaction with the program and presenters.

The real litmus test for the success or failure of the forum, however, will not be found in results of the official evaluations, but rather in the ways that the members of the state’s nonprofit sector “vote with their feet.” Will folks simply return to their individual organizations and causes until the next meeting, or will a sizable group begin to look for opportunities to take action and to be a part of a broader movement for the common good?

The goal of the event, after all, was not simply to produce an educated and informed nonprofit sector.

Rather, it was to help convince nonprofits that public-policy advocacy can and should be a central component of their day-to-day work, and that the sector ought to mobilize collectively on a host of important issues.

Ran Coble of the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research addressed the policy role nonprofits can play when he reminded the audience about the recent investment by the A.J. Fletcher Foundation in affordable-housing advocacy.

As Coble noted, a relatively modest investment in the public-policy advocacy of the N.C. Justice Center and N.C. Housing Coalition helped produce a multi-million-dollar increase in state outlays for affordable housing.

As for the need for a collective nonprofit voice on policy issues, North Carolina’s charitable nonprofit sector is large and growing rapidly – with more than 8,000 organizations large enough to file an annual IRS report.

The sector employees over 200,000 workers and spends over $21 billion per year.

No other group in the state comes close to having such a vast and untapped network with the potential for influencing state government policy — much less for moving it in the direction of the common good.

In the coming months, the public policy staff of the Center for Nonprofits will be working hard to help the state’s nonprofit sector to realize its enormous potential for collectively shaping public policy.

We welcome your input and participation.

Rob Schofield is the Director of Public Policy and Government Relations at the N.C. Center for Nonprofits. He can be reached at rschofield@ncnonprofits.org.   

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