Nonprofits can be better advocates

David Heinen
David Heinen

David Heinen

In the recession, nonprofits are being asked to do more with dwindling resources.

While many organizations are looking for ways to cut costs in today’s economy, all nonprofits should consider bolstering their advocacy efforts to have the greatest possible impact in their communities.

Here are five ways your nonprofit can influence public policy:

* Advocate directly for your cause.

Nonprofits leaders are grounded in first-hand knowledge about what works in their fields.

Because of this expertise, nonprofit leaders should play a key role in shaping the laws that affect their communities.

By advocating for policy changes consistent with your mission, your nonprofit can get at the root causes of your issues and can have a greater impact.

Even if your nonprofit does not lobby for policy change, it is essential that you communicate to federal, state and local leaders the ways that your nonprofit enriches the lives of people in your community.

Unless public officials know this, they cannot invite you to the table to be a part of public discourse on issues where you are the expert.

* Advocate for issues affecting all nonprofits.

In addition to the myriad ways they serve our communities, nonprofits are also an essential part of the state’s economic engine, providing more than 400,000 jobs and
putting $29 billion into the economy every year.

This has two important implications.

First, laws that help nonprofits operate more effectively have a powerful and positive effect on lives throughout North Carolina.

Second, when nonprofits speak in a unified voice, they can have a strong impact on policy decisions.

* Collaborate with other nonprofits to advocate for long-term solutions.

With a record shortfall projected for the state budget, policy discussion has centered around massive cuts in government-funded programs and services.

In this context, it is easy for nonprofits to get caught up in a self-protective mode, fighting to preserve funding for the programs that most directly impact their missions and the communities they serve.

A new coalition of nonprofits is reframing the budget discussion in a more positive and proactive light.

The Together NC campaign aims to protect North Carolina’s investments in the structures, services and natural resources that are core to the missions of nonprofits.

* Collaborate with government to build stronger communities.

The most immediate way that nonprofits can be partners with government is to participate in our economic recovery.

The National Council of Nonprofits has developed an excellent resource to help organizations understand how they can share in our nation’s economic recovery.

In the longer term, there are signs that our state government may be open to working more closely with nonprofits to develop solutions to our state’s problems.

* Advocate for the federal government to support nonprofit volunteers.

In his address to Congress in February, President Obama called for the passage of the Serve America Act, a broad national service proposal that would expand national
service programs and promote volunteerism to help solve pressing challenges in our communities.

Nonprofits should pick up on this momentum to advocate for the Serve America Act and other legislation to encourage public service.

Creating a strong corps of volunteers not only will help nonprofits more effectively serve their communities, but also will create a talented and energized pool of prospective nonprofit staff and board members for the future.

David Heinen is the director of public policy and advocacy for the N.C. Center for Nonprofits in Raleigh.

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