Advocating for advocacy

By Ret Boney

About 50 nonprofit professionals gathered in Raleigh recently to learn how adding advocacy and lobbying to their toolboxes can help them achieve their missions.

The Institute for Nonprofits at N.C. State University held a seminar for Triangle-area groups on June 21 that was attended by a cross-section of the sector, including executive directors, attorneys, board members and public policy experts.

“Advocacy is frightening to a lot of nonprofits,” said Barbara Metelsky, director of the institute.

The goal of the seminar was to boost attendees’ confidence by helping them understand the basics of advocacy and lobbying, she said.

Gita Gulati-Partee, president of OpenSource Leadership Strategies, a consulting firm that works with nonprofits, provided an overview of the importance of advocacy and lobbying, and of rules and regulations governing nonprofits.

“Advocacy is about achieving our mission,” she said, defining advocacy as identifying and embracing a cause.  “Doing advocacy can help you have a greater impact on that mission.”

Nonprofit professionals and volunteers are natural advocates, she said, because they have a passion for the issues and causes they represent.

But a lack of understanding of the rules governing advocacy and lobbying often creates fear and inaction.

Engagement in public policy is legal, and even encouraged by the IRS, Gulati-Partee said, but nonprofits must start by familiarizing themselves with the do’s and don’ts.

Then advocacy must infuse all operational areas of the organization, she said.

“Advocacy is not going to take hold unless it is really integrated into your core operations,” she said, because otherwise, the organization will not have the time or resources to devote to it.

“The most effective lobbying happens as part of a comprehensive advocacy strategy,” she said, and can include activities like letters to the editor, protests, petitions, boycotts, public forums, workshops and training sessions.

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