The political season has started. The State of the Union and the Republican Response fired up Washington D.C. last week with debates on important issues, such as early childhood education and criminal justice reform. Across the country, legislatures are beginning their work, addressing issues at the state level that affect so many of the constituents we serve in the social sector. In our great democracy, advocacy provides us with the opportunity to affect positive social change on a wider scale than any individual organization can achieve on its own.  Yet, it’s one many organizations shy away from, but we’d like to change that.

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In our New Year’s post, 10 Resolutions for Daring Greatly in 2015, we stated:

We need to be advocates.
Many of our clients do not have a voice, so we need to engage in advocacy and lobbying to ensure that their voice is heard. If we want government to listen, we must speak loudly, regularly and consistently as a sector and have well formulated solutions ready.

Nonprofits work directly on the toughest social issues every day. This season, we challenge each organization to take on ONE issue on your own or in partnership with a coalition group. Our friend, Leo Barron Hicks, founder and CEO of Blackacre Policy Forum, shares more on why engaging in advocacy is so important for social organizations:

Times have changed. As a general rule, nonprofits and social service providers are service – and program – centric. Their mission statement is to provide programs and services to their constituents who are more often than not one or more of the disenfranchised members of society, e. g., women, children, ex-offenders, the chemically addicted, veterans, the homeless, etc. In keeping with this focus, the structural components of these organizations include governance (Board), administrative (management staff), program/services and fundraising. Significant time and energy is devoted to developing these components, an approach which has served nonprofits and social organizations well. 

However, many funding sources now require that nonprofits create lasting change for the better and engaging in public policy can be an important part of this new mission. Consider the following:

  • Value Proposition #1: Adding a public policy component moves nonprofits and social service providers from being reactive to being proactive. Public policy does more than precede social service programming. Public policy drives social service programming. A public policy component allows organizations to help shape policies that affect their constituents and gives them the opportunity to play offense rather than defense.
  • Value Proposition #2: A public policy component facilitates outreach and creates partnerships and strategic alliances. Public policy engages the widest possible audience and builds public awareness and support for the organization, its purpose and clientele. It also helps identify and unite organizations that share a common goal or purpose and encourages them to work together to advance mutual interest.
  • Value Proposition #3: Developing a public policy component strengthens and enhances organizational capabilities. The focus on programs to the exclusion of all other considerations, limits the vision of nonprofit and social organizations. A public policy component expands organizational vision, sharpens focus and helps to clarify the organization’s mission. By matching programs to policy, a public policy function helps to identify gaps in services and charts the course for future program development.

In conclusion, the addition of a public policy initiative creates cutting-edge ways of addressing old concerns. We can no longer afford to be passive observers, buffeted by political winds of which we have no influence or control. Nonprofit and social organizations must instead keep pace with the changing times and ever-shifting landscapes. They must expand their vision and evolve into more insightful, more effective organizations. Rather than have policy imposed upon them, nonprofits and social service providers must instead influence and shape public policy. 

We couldn’t agree more and welcome your feedback on Leo’s thinking on the importance of public policy to nonprofit organizations.

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