Nonprofits CAN Shape Public Policy
This election year, we reflect on the role of the nonprofit sector in strengthening our democracy and advocating for the greater good. From our local neighborhoods to the international arena, nonprofits champion public interests and embody Americans’ best notions of ourselves as compassionate and courageous leaders. At the same time, the “new (ab)normal” has the social sector under siege, and the sound and fury of “politics as usual” threatens to put everything that nonprofits care about – such as civil and human rights, alleviating poverty, the social safety net, education – at stake.
For all its great potential and achievements, the nonprofit sector can be too quick to embrace a victim mentality, relishing the role of underdog to the point of paralysis. There is no time for that. Nonprofits must refuse to fail. This does not simply mean fighting to sustain essential services, though without a doubt, the poor, the shrinking middle class, and our communities are in dire need. To achieve the just and healthy society nonprofits stand for, they must serve and advocate.
Nonprofits face obstacles to assuming an advocacy role, not the least of which are real limitations on lobbying and advocacy activities, perceived limitations stemming from incomplete understanding of what they can or cannot do, inadequate resources, and lack of support from funders, board members, or other stakeholders. Fortunately, there are resources available for nonprofits to learn more about how they can overcome these challenges to play an active role in shaping public policy. For example:
- The National Council of Nonprofits hosts a resource page empowering nonprofits with both information and inspiration.
- Independent Sector offers information on advocacy rules and skills, including a feature on using the Congressional recess as an opportunity to engage with lawmakers.
It has never been more important for nonprofits to mobilize communities to break out of the fear-based, lowest common denominator thinking in which it is so easy to get trapped in times of scarcity and ask instead: “What kind of country do we want to live in, and what shared sacrifices are necessary to get there?”
Tags: advocacy, change, civic engagement, community, independent sector, mission advancement, national council of nonprofits, Nonprofit Sector, philanthropy, politics, public policy, social impact, social justice