Category Archives: Public Policy and Advocacy

Voter Engagement

September 25 is National Voter Registration Day!

With everything else your organization is working on, why should your nonprofit get involved in voter engagement?  Our friends at Nonprofit VOTE share several reasons why the nonprofit sector is critical to voter engagement:

  • A Working Democracy Is Critical to Nonprofit Goals and Missions:  Nonprofits are more likely to thrive in an environment where government is held in high esteem and people are more likely to participate in the process.
  • Wide Gaps in Who Votes Undermine Democracy and Our Nonprofits:  For the past three decades voters have been disproportionately of higher income, older or more partisan in their interests.  How would our world be different if everyone participated?
  • Voting Benefits the People Who Participate:  People who vote are associated with a host of positive civic, health and social factors. Compared to non-voters, voters are more likely to volunteer, contact their elected officials, and stay informed about local affairs. They are more likely to contribute to their neighborhood’s “social capital” and live in communities where neighbors are in contact with one another.

Many nonprofits work regularly with underrepresented populations – those we serve and sometimes our own employees.  There are small simple steps nonprofits can take to encourage voter participation – even as simple as encouraging employees and volunteers to register to vote. Yes, nonprofits must remain strictly nonpartisan. But that doesn’t mean we must roll over and play dead to avoid speaking out during an election cycle. Nonprofits have the opportunity during this and every election season to advance our missions by calling attention to the issues that matter to the people and communities we serve.

Resources:

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Hot Topic from the Principles & Practices Guide: Public Policy and Advocacy

What steps can a nonprofit take to empower and support the chief executive and board’s efforts to engage in public policy activities?
 

The twists and turns of the legislative process can be as fast as a speeding bullet or as slow as watching paint dry.  The thing to consider is when things are happening rapidly on a national, state or local level, is your organization poised to engage effectively?  In the last few weeks, nonprofits from across the nation got engaged with efforts to let their voice be heard about proposed changes to the charitable giving tax incentive.  In Kentucky, KNN circulated a number of requests encouraging organizations that value this deduction for their donors to sign-on to a national letter submitted to the Congressional Supercommittee and contact their legislators.  KNN also provided a laptop onsite at our annual Forum so that nonprofit leaders could participate on the spot.   We just knew there would be hundreds of nonprofit leaders to sign-on.  Well, we were wrong.

When we dug a little deeper, we uncovered a key issue that we hadn’t necessarily thought of – what if the nonprofit chief executive isn’t sure if he/she is “authorized” to sign-on to such a letter on behalf of the organization without the board’s approval?  As a best practice, your organization needs to answer this question, and ideally BEFORE the next rapidly unfolding legislative issue catches you by surprise.  One step is to simply add this issue to the board agenda and develop a policy outlining how the chief executive can engage in issues of importance to your organization and/or all nonprofits – like protecting the charitable giving tax incentive.  Another step would be to develop a public policy agenda for the organization.  Again, this could outline issues that are of importance to all nonprofits and/or be more specific to identify specific legislation. The links below share a variety of examples.

While the outcome of the legislative process can be a mystery, at least three things are for certain:  1) nonprofits can and should let their voices be heard on issues that impact the nonprofit sector and those we serve; 2)  with proper reporting, lobbying is easy, legal and worry-free; and 3)  a nonprofit chief executive and board leaders need the board’s support to feel confident engaging in initiatives that will allow the collective nonprofit voice to be heard on important issues.  While the charitable giving tax incentive issue is quiet for now, it and other important issues that affect your organization will be back.  With a vengeance.  Will your organization be ready?

Let’s discuss!  How does your organization address this issue?  Comment below!

Learn More:

KNN – How to Advocate

http://www.ncnonprofits.org/advocacy/publicpolicyagenda.pdf

http://www.incap.org/documents/iiwf/2011/Final%202012%20Indiana%20Institute%20for%20Working%20Families%20Agenda.pdf

http://www.kycancerc.org/public-policy-committee.htm

http://www.mtnonprofit.org/content.aspx?id=2303

http://www.minnesotanonprofits.org/mcn-at-the-capitol/current-agenda

http://www.councilofnonprofits.org/public-policy/policy-agenda-adopted

http://www.nasaa-arts.org/Advocacy/Advocacy-Tools/advocate_policy.pdf

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