Last month we shared Points of Light’s first edition of “Civic Life Today,” a digital magazine with a series of nine issues, each highlighting an area of the Civic Circle and taking a deep dive into how people can activate this in their own life.
This month we look at the Civic Circle with a focus on Voice. From Black Lives Matter to #MeToo to the gay rights movement to campaigns like the Ice Bucket Challenge, there have been a range of social movements that inspired, motivated, and empowered our society in recent memory alone.
As nonprofit organizations, we may feel hesitant to engage our voice in some of these movements or policies that might drive or impact them. We might avoid using our platform in new or bolder ways out of fear of putting off volunteers, funders or other stakeholders. We are reticent, so as not to appear “too political” or “too controversial” by speaking up about current social or political issues. But in doing so we miss an opportunity to not only advance our mission, but to build deeper connections with the very individuals we serve.
A critical step to unlocking your voice is to be clear that advocacy and lobbying are two different things. Broadly speaking, advocacy is defined as “public support for or a recommendation of a particular cause or policy,” whereas lobbying is “carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting, to influence legislation” according to the United States Internal Revenue Service. Whereas lobbying is prohibited for most nonprofits, advocacy is not.
As an organization, you can add your voice to the public square and join the chorus of individuals seeking to effect positive change. Here are some ideas to get started:
1) Learn More About Advocacy
One great resource is Bolder Advocacy, an organization that consists of lawyers, coaches, and nonprofit experts who provide educational resources for nonprofit and foundation leaders on advocacy. They have a wide range of information, tools, and training to help organizations navigate advocacy rules and regulations.
2) Find Your Voice
Your staff and Board of Directors should decide on your advocacy strategy. Identify the issue(s) that are connected to your mission and your organizational values. Where it makes sense, engage other constituents such as volunteers or members of the community you serve. Use this checklist from the Council of Nonprofits to help you plan effectively.
3) Do the Research
Educate yourself more deeply on current social movements that relate to the issue(s) your organization has identified. Evaluate what tools and resources already exist and which organizations might already be engaged in advocacy related to those issues.
4) Inform Your Network
Share the “Civic Life Today” issue about Your Voice. Help to inform your network about your organization’s current or planned advocacy and why it matters to your organization and the people you serve. Offer educational resources that help to deepen their understanding of the issue(s). Learning and advocating together strengthens your organization’s connection with your constituencies while you work together toward systemic change.