Nonprofit Advocacy: Bring Your Folding Chair!
OpEd by Marnie Taylor, President and CEO
When it comes to nonprofit advocacy, we always say, “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” Last week, one of my staff reminded me of a better quote from former New York congresswoman, Shirley Chisholm.
“If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”
Just a couple of days ago, nonprofits gathered at the state Capitol for our annual Advocacy Day. We gather each year to remind our legislators of the size, scope and impact of the charitable sector in Oklahoma and nationwide. It’s our way of bringing our own seats to the table and reminding policy makers the importance of nonprofits in their own communities. We really do change, enrich and save lives.
Nationally, nonprofit organizations employ more than 10 percent of the American workforce, paying $634 billion in wages and contributing 5.4 percent to our GDP. Last year, we gave more than $373 billion to charities, and more than 70 percent of that money comes from individuals. In Oklahoma, there are 18,979 nonprofits that create $15.3 billion in revenue and hold $48.8 billion in assets. In fact, Oklahomans gave more than $2.5 billion to nonprofits and provided another 94 million hours of volunteer service worth more than $2.6 billion.
With nearly one in six Oklahomans living in poverty, it’s no wonder we need a strong nonprofit sector. We provide meals to the hungry and food insecure, from cradle to the elderly. We ensure children have educational and development opportunities before they ever step into a classroom. Nonprofits provide human services, health care, housing and more. We educate and enrich through our countless arts and humanities programs that celebrate Oklahoma and America. All of us have been touched at one point in our lives by one of our great nonprofits.
While the state budget issues continue to loom and weigh heavily on our sector, new challenges from the federal level also cause great concern. Budget proposals from the White House have recommended eliminating or drastically cutting dozens of programs that support various nonprofits and people in need. Tax reform could change the way people give money and support the sector. A proposal to eliminate the Johnson Amendment could bring unwanted politics into the arena.
The charitable sector brings a unique set of assets to the table (along with our folding chairs). We give policymakers perspective, expertise, innovation and immense flexibility. We also are committed to excellence and transparency through our stories, our data and evidence, and our vow to remain accountable to donors, constituents, clients and policy makers.
We hope that policy makers can respond by investing in core services such as health care, human services, education, safety and other ways to create a high standard of living. We also hope policy makers will utilize our research and come to us for data. We need that seat at the table so that government recognizes that our capacity – while impressive – is still limited.
I also urge nonprofits to continue being proactive. Visit with legislators. Call your delegation. Inform the public. And most importantly, have a folding chair to sit at the table. Oklahoma and our citizens depend on our sector to truly thrive.