Nonprofits urged to improve advocacy

Nonprofit need to look internally to boost their advocacy, while coalitions, funders and policymakers should adjust their positions on advocacy and lobbying, a new report says.

Nonprofits, for example, should treat advocacy and lobbying more broadly and connect advocacy to the needs of their clients and to broader public objectives says Building Advocacy from Within, a report by the Listening Post Project of the Center for Civil Society Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

Based on a roundtable in July 2010 in Los Angeles that included 22 nonprofit advocacy experts, representatives of nonprofit intermediary groups, and nonprofit practitioners, mainly based on the West Coast, the report says nonprofits should “build advocacy more explicitly into the infrastructure of their organizations and boards.”

Big hurdles to nonprofit advocacy and lobbying are internal to nonprofits, which “need to make internal, structural changes if they want to increase their involvement,” the report says.

Foundations also “must be better educated on the importance of advocacy to the ability of nonprofit organizations to fulfill their missions,” it says, and “must be aware of the benefits that supporting nonprofits and coalitions can bring to them.”

At the roundtable, for example, the head of United Ways of California said foundations measure their own impact rather than the impact of their funding on the community, an approach that results in “their advocating for themselves rather than for the nonprofits they fund,” the report says.

And coalitions “must be careful not to distance themselves” from the work of grassroots groups, it says.

Participants in the roundtable cited a “disconnect” between coalitions and grassroots groups, saying coalitions should approach their advocacy work differently to be “more in line with grassroots organizations and the public at large.”

The report also says the policy community must be “educated on the consequences of not only their policy decisions but also procedural decisions.”

Roundtable participants agreed that “over-regulation of advocacy and the paperwork burden this imposes greatly reduce the time and energy nonprofits can actually devote to advocacy,” the report says.

“The complexity involved in compliance with government regulations also restricts the effectiveness of the organization’s advocacy work,” it says.

So nonprofits and coalitions “should work to inform government officials and policymakers about how their regulatory choices can adversely affect nonprofit engagement in advocacy.”

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