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Policy involvement mixed for nonprofits

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While virtually all nonprofits believe they have a “duty” to be involved in advocacy as it relates to their missions, many are hampered by a lack of time and money, a new study says.

Almost three-quarters of nonprofits surveyed perform some type of lobbying or advocacy, and three-fifths of those are active on a monthly basis, says “Nonprofit America: A Force for Democracy,” a report released by the Johns Hopkins University Nonprofit Listening Post Project.

But only about one in three nonprofits go beyond limited forms of advocacy, like signing the occasional correspondence, to engage in deeper activities, like testifying at hearings or speaking in public.

“Nonprofit advocacy is a critical strategy for solving our society’s most challenging problems,” says Larry Ottinger of the Center for Lobbying in the Public Interest. “This important survey should serve as a clarion call to the nonprofit and philanthropy sector to boost the resources and training devoted to this critical function.”

Among nonprofits that do no lobbying or advocacy, most cite a lack of time and resources, the study says, while about one in four say current laws are holding them back.

However, among groups that engage in advocacy but not lobbying, almost half say they avoid lobbying because of legal restrictions.

Involvement in advocacy is most common among large nonprofits, as well as those serving families, children and seniors, and is least common among arts organizations.

Associations and coalitions also boost engagement among nonprofits, with nine in 10 groups surveyed reporting membership in larger groups, many of which engage in advocacy or lobbying.

To boost nonprofit engagement, the report recommends increasing resources available to coalitions and associations for policy work; growing foundation funding for advocacy; encouraging boards to become more involved in advocacy; and providing more training for small and mid-sized nonprofits.

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