A recent Johns Hopkins University Center for Civil Society Studies-Institute for Policy Studies survey indicates that nonprofits are becoming increasingly active in policy advocacy, particularly at the State and local level. But sustainability of their efforts is a living question since resources for policy advocacy and lobbying in this sector are few.
872 nonprofits were surveyed. Almost 75 percent of the respondents were involved in policy advocacy or lobbying. Of those, about 60% did so once a month or more. 85% of responding organizations said they devoted less than 2 percent of their resources to policy work. Typically, the executive director of the organization was the key policy representative. The vast majority of the work was done in the State and local arenas.
The piece sees the growing policy work as a positive trend and suggests ways to support advocacy:
• Strengthen the policy advocacy and lobbying capacity of field-specific nonprofit intermediary organizations. These organizations have assumed a crucial role in backstopping
the policy involvement of local service organizations but often lack the resources to support this functionas effectively as is needed.
• Expand foundation support for nonprofit involvement in policy advocacy and civic engagement. Many foundations take at best a “hands-off” posture, and at times an actively negative one, toward nonprofit policy involvement and civic engagement. This puts an unnecessary damper on what should be a major function of the nation’s nonprofit institutions—giving voice to the voiceless and raising unaddressed issues to national policy attention. More than that, since the major impediment to more thoroughgoing nonprofit engagement in the policy process is the lack of resources, and therefore the lack oftime, that even the large organizations have available for this function, foundations need to re-think their hands-off
position toward nonprofit advocacy and increase their financial support for this important function. To be sure, the constraints under which foundations operate put limits
on such support, but those limits are often far less severe than many overly cautious foundations may assume. As government policy has become increasingly central to the
fiscal health of the sector and to the well-being of the people the sector is serving, foundations need to recognize the important role they must play in helping organizations participate in the shaping of this policy.
• Encourage and equip nonprofi t organizations to engage their boards and the publics they serve in their advocacy and lobbying activities. Nonprofit executives need help in performing the advocacy and lobbying responsibilities of their organizations. These responsibilities therefore need to become a bigger part of the responsibilities of nonprofit
boards, integrated into board mission statements and board training. In addition, organizations need to be encouraged, and trained, to engage the citizen base of their operations in their advocacy activities. This will require training and support for staff to perform this function.
• Strengthen the sector’s capacity to equip small and mid-sized organizations to operate in the policy arena. Smaller organizations clearly have special challenges in
operating in the policy arena. From the data presented here, these organizations tend to be less well-informed about the existing laws and regulations in this field. What is more, they are less likely to be members of advocacy coalitions and have fewer staff resources to devote to this function. Since these organizations are far more numerous than the large organizations, ensuring a voice for them in the advocacy arena is thus especially important. Expanded programs specially targeted at this segment of the sector thus seem needed.