Advocacy: If You’re Not at the Table, You’re On the Menu
As we say in the public policy world, if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.
One would have to be living on a remote island not to be hearing about politics these days. At a federal level, the nonprofit sector is expecting some major shifts. Some are good, but many of those shifts are making leaders in the charitable sector nervous or even angry. Another healthcare overhaul could be in the works, funding for core social services could be cut, Medicare and Medicaid changes are on the horizon and tax code adjustments are sure to be on the new administration’s short list.
While many are more concerned with politicians’ use of Twitter, the nonprofit sector should be paying close attention to what is happening in Washington and at 23rd and Lincoln in Oklahoma City. Our state is facing another massive budget shortfall, and as one legislator put it – there is nothing left to cut. It could be a very interesting session this spring.
Nonprofit leaders continue to be privately anxious about what is happening politically, particularly with state government. Demand continues to increase dramatically along with the cost of doing business. However, no one is getting a raise, and many organizations are seeing cuts, particularly those in human services and healthcare. In a recent survey we conducted, more than half of respondents were pessimistic about the state government’s future.
But more troubling is the fact that more than half of respondents simply don’t advocate. Most don’t have an advocacy or public policy platform, and few saw the importance of engaging in this most important dialogue. Part of it is a misunderstanding of IRS rules around advocacy and lobbying which prohibit 501c3 organizations from endorsing candidates or political parties. Another issue at play is organizational capacity. Frankly, most organizations can’t hire lobbyists, political strategists, policy experts and the communication staffs needed to effectively engage constituents.
Worse yet is the sense of exasperation felt by many. Our grandparents and even great-grandparents taught us to throw our hands up at the government, regardless of what party was in control. And this laissez-faire shrug of indifference ends up permeating the charitable sector. But this indifference is becoming increasingly dangerous, as the consumers who rely on nonprofit services are bearing the brunt of our lack of action in advocacy. It is our economic and moral imperative to advocate. If we are unwilling to do so, we are in the wrong business.
The charitable sector – philanthropy, business, individual donors and volunteers, and nonprofits – must be willing to have a voice and share their thoughts with policy makers. More importantly, we must partner with our policy makers to get the work done. We must share data, best practices, tell our client stories, show government our effects and impact on the economy.
If you haven’t signed up for this year’s 2017 Nonprofit Advocacy Forum, I encourage you to do so. There we will gather with policy makers, funders and nonprofit professionals to engage in a new dialogue to help shape a better government/charitable sector partnership that can make a difference. While we won’t change the world in three hours, I hope the Forum will empower nonprofit leaders to better advocate for those we serve and the missions that accomplish the impact on Oklahoma.