Because “If you are not at the table, you are on the table” (unknown source).
SCANPO members must be vigilant and proactive advocates to ensure the viability and sustainability of our organizations. The severe fiscal crises facing governments at every level have spurred states to tax and levy fees on nonprofits and foundations to help pay for government programs and services. Obviously, nonprofits are already struggling to meet increased demands with decreased revenues and resources, and we must ensure our elected officials do not undermine the importance of nonprofit sector to our state.
The Alliance for Justice, a nonprofit advocacy organization, gives a compelling argument for why nonprofits should lobby to change or affect public policy:
- Nonprofits traditionally serve constituencies and issues that have a limited voice in the policy process.
- Nonprofits providing services frequently have the best, or only, information on the social needs they exist to address.
- Nonprofit organizations are less subject to self-interested motivations, driven instead by a commitment to a broad community of people or common interests.
SCANPO member organizations observe and respond to the impact of public policies on the people we serve, whether they are the victims of domestic violence or the Friends of the Library. Therefore it is imperative that we help shape those policies at the outset, not just react to their effects.
Lobbying by 501(c) (3) nonprofits is a powerful strategy for making people’s lives better and for building stronger communities. Lobbying involves talking to public officials about a particular piece of legislation. Within specific state or federal guidelines’ nonprofits are permitted to expend resources on lobbying. There are, however, no limits on educating policy makers, the public, your members or constituencies about a particular policy!
Nonprofits have a constitutional right and responsibility to engage in the electoral and policy-making processes, though federal regulations require that nonprofits remain strictly nonpartisan. However, there are roles and opportunities for nonprofits to help create a strong democracy. These include:
- candidate forums
- voter education guides
- voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives.