Speaking up for a cause is critical, yet the giving sector often lags in pursuing advocacy work.
Many nonprofits may be reluctant to play an advocacy role because they believe they lack the resources or know-how, or because they fear they might put their foundation, corporate or public funding at risk. But advocacy work can make a big difference in shaping the public policies that affect nonprofits and their clients. Recent research in New Mexico and North Carolina by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy shows investment in nonprofit advocacy and community organizing in those states yields a big return in benefits for underrepresented constituencies.
As two new reports also make clear, nonprofits that are resourceful about fundraising and use of the Internet can better support their advocacy work. Untapped, a new report by The Linchpin Campaign, offers a practical guide for community organizers to cultivate and strengthen their relationships with major donors. “Community organizing attracts financial support from major donors, pointing to a viable and important opportunity for those raising money for organizing,” says the report by Linchpin, a project of the Center for Community Change. Ninety-four percent of over 100 private donors Linchpin surveyed give to community organizing, with 42 percent of those donors focusing less than one-fourth of their giving on organizing, suggesting the potential for even greater giving for that work. A second report, published in Administration & Society, says nonprofits are becoming more active through their websites in promoting causes and civic engagement.
While regulations limit nonprofit advocacy, many nonprofits are finding innovative yet legal ways to serve as advocates, says the study, Nonprofit Advocacy and Civic Engagement on the Internet, by David Suarez, an assistant professor of policy, planning and development at the University of Southern California.
Already faced with more than enough challenges in delivering services and operating their shops, many nonprofits may look at advocacy work as beyond their mission or their means. But advocacy work can address the policies at the root of the problems nonprofits exist to address. By tying their fundraising to their role as advocates, and using the web to push their cause and engage their supporters, nonprofits can be more effective in serving their clients and advancing their mission.
Todd Cohen, a veteran news reporter and editor, is editor and publisher of Philanthropy Journal, an online newspaper published by the A.J. Fletcher Foundation in Raleigh, N.C. Cohen has taught nonprofit reporting and media relations at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and at Duke University, and regularly speaks on the topics of nonprofit media relations and trends in the charitable world.