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Advocacy as a Business Strategy

December 07, 2023 8:56 AM | Anonymous

Jan Masaoka, CEO of CalNonprofits, recently published an article (below) that is certainly worth a share. She very accurately provides a case for advocating for your nonprofit in addition to your specific issues. It's also worth noting that advocacy doesn't only extend to traveling to the State Capitol during the legislative session when there are a million things going on and where you are amongst a million people vying for the attention of a few legislators. Advocacy happens year-round and it includes making a plan to not only regularly visit your state legislators, but also your mayors, city council members and others who are both directly and indirectly influenced by your organization. These are also the people who travel to the Capitol during the legislative session when you may not have the time nor resources to do so. If you've built the relationship long before the legislative session, the chances of your issues and specific nonprofit garnering the attention needed should increase exponentially. To put it another way, start looking at advocacy as part of the entree instead of just a side salad.  

Jan Masaoka's article below:

A long, long time ago I was a research assistant for a nonprofit research firm. We embarked on a three-year national study of mental health clinics to see what factors were most critical to organizational sustainability. Were clinics more successful in urban or in rural areas? Was it better to have an executive director with a background in medicine or in operations? 

I ended up leaving the job before the study concluded. But several years later I ran into my old ED and couldn't wait to ask her: What did that critical X factor turn out to be?

Her answer: the amount of time the executive director spends at their state capitol.

It was an important lesson. We in nonprofits often think about advocacy in terms of our causes: we advocate for children with disabilities, for mountain lions, for immigrants, for people leaving incarceration, for seniors living in poverty.

We don't always realize that advocacy is not only the right thing to do to further our causes, but is also an important fundraising and business strategy. For example, a nonprofit might advocate for laws to increase senior housing. But if advocacy is also considered a business strategy, that same organization might try to package that housing with additional government support for community-based senior services that they could provide for the benefit of their neighborhood.

Government funds nonprofits with about ten times the amount of money that foundations give. But that money doesn't just happen. It happens because nonprofit advocates have fought for it -- to serve their constituencies, and as part of doing so, to give their own nonprofit financial strength.

One former animal welfare advocate commented to me that she realized she had spent years advocating for dogs, for cats, for whales, for kangaroos, for birds. But she hadn't thought to also advocate for her nonprofit organization. 

So if you sometimes think, "We should do more advocacy but we don't have time," consider flipping your script to this: "We don't have time for fundraising either, but we make the time. Advocacy is a business strategy, too – why aren't we paying more attention?"

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