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Your "How-To" Guide for State and Local Lobbying, featuring updated and revised material, new case studies, and more. The Lobbying and Advocacy Handbook for Nonprofit Organizations, Second Edition,is your complete road map to shaping public policy at the state and local level. It gives detailed, step-by-step instructions for developing an effective plan and putting it into action. With this handbook, you will discover how lobbying can help fulfill your mission; learn how to initiate, support, or defeat bills; develop effective lobbying skills; gather and mobilize support for your positions; learn how to use the media effectively; influence gov't administrators to back your policy positions; comply with state and federal regulations; and set up systems in your nonprofit to support lobbying. In addition to updated worksheets, case studies, and resources, new material in the second edition includes nonprofit civic engagement and voter mobilization; designing the Policy Committee that works for your nonprofit; utilizing social media in your communications strategies; administrative advocacy: working with governmental agencies; and understanding the why, what and how of collaboration.
Form the Forward
Legislative advocacy by nonprofit organizations has been a defining aspect of U.S. social progress for the last 50 years. Organized citizen voices (sometimes criticized as “pressure groups”) have been essential contributors to passage of landmark pieces of legislation, from the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to the Clean Air Act of 1970 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 – and made similar impacts at the state, county and city level on any number of issues. Americans have learned that if you want to fight (or support) City Hall, you are far more effective when you do it with others, and have a clear agenda and a lobbying plan.
This instrumental role of “people power,” using the power of numbers combined with a savvy knowledge of legislative processes, media, and persuasion, goes at least as far back as the formation of the United States. Beginning in 1791 the First Amendment guaranteed the “right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances,” anticipating important roles for citizens beyond simply electing representatives, and this is now an essential complementary voice in democracies worldwide.
While nonprofits may be best known for the activities of sponsoring arts and culture, providing health and human services, forming schools and universities, underlying each of these activities is the belief that citizens in a democracy have a right (and for many a natural desire) to be involved in collective efforts that are larger than friends and family but smaller than the state. It is also true that the nonprofit sector’s active democracy role inevitably leads to tension with government, resulting in regulation and some restrictions, and in some countries outright suppression and police action.
Even as the democratic role of nonprofit organizations is a permanent fixture on the political landscape, the methods and vehicles are constantly evolving. From Internet advocacy, social media, and new organizational forms to changes in regulations and disclosure requirements, the last 10 years have seen both an increase in nonprofit advocacy and a major shift in the way it is done – making this new edition of the Handbook a necessity.
Many important fields of the U.S. nonprofit sector have their origins in an intense period of activism and direct public and legislative advocacy, but now have a greatly reduced presence in public decision making after becoming institutionalized with public contracts, full-time paid staff, well-organized fundraisers, and Web sites. This is true for many organizations across the domestic violence movement, neighborhood organizing, education reform, environmental protection, civil rights, HIV/AIDS, disability access, etc. While the highest point of activism and public attention of early years may not be possible to sustain over the long run, it should not be abandoned since “eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.” It is regrettable that only about a third of nonprofits are actively engaged in public policy, even though the issue and people they work with are deeply affected by government decisions every day – and sometimes the very existence of their organization is dependent on continued government funding.
Fortunately there is a growing partnership among longtime advocates and new leaders joining the sector who agree that there is no good reason for nonprofits to be bystanders, not have a public policy committee or participate in the decisions affecting their field. That is a leadership responsibility, and to do otherwise ignores a key aspect of how the modern world functions. In this book Marcia Avner presents a critical guide and skill set for leaders of organizations. I have seen that board members and managers of nonprofit organizations are constantly drilled in every aspect of the basics of financial management, IRS reporting, HR, performance measurement, good governance, and so on. Public policy advocacy needs to be seen in that same light as an essential competency if nonprofit organizations are to achieve their potential.
If I had my way, every interview for a new nonprofit executive director, CEO, board chair, or senior manager would include the questions “What do you think should be on this organization’s public policy agenda? How would you go about making that happen?” For the second question, the pages that follow offer the best guide there is.
—Jon Pratt, Executive Director, Minnesota Council of Nonprofits