Tag Archives: advocacy

Share Your Little Black Book

Nonprofits frequently go about their work as if they’re the only organization doing what they do. It’s pretty unlikely that your organization’s work is radically different from that of organizations in the same sector. You’re bound to have something in common, whether it’s goals, constituents, or funders.

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Find other nonprofits who are successfully doing what you’re doing and emulate them. Customize programs, policies, campaigns, and events to fit your own organization. Don’t be afraid to collaborate. Share resources. Nonprofits work with slim assets, and the more you share with one another, the more you’ll benefit those you serve.

The ASPCA does a great job of sharing tools and resources with animal protection and rescue groups. Their materials are not limited to member organizations. They make their information available to the public so that it can educate and inspire others working in the field. For example, they provide a “Little Black Book of Adoption Promotions.” Rescue groups across the country are constantly coming up with marketing ideas to promote the adoption of animals. Instead of keeping these ideas to themselves, they collaborate because they share the same goal of finding animals homes, whether they are in the same community or not.

Speaking of the ASPCA, this month is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month. This is Copper, an adorable boxer-mix puppy that we are fostering for the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA. He’s about twelve weeks old. He’s calm, curious, and eager to please. He’s already learned his name, how to walk on a leash, and to sit on command. He sleeps through the night and is happy to nap or hang out in his crate. If you or someone you know is interested in adopting Copper, please contact me.

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Hanging out at the GAB

Last week, I went to Richmond to visit the General Assembly. (Although it made for a long day, I was able to time my visit so that I could also tour the incredible Richmond SPCA and stop by the Sorensen Alumni Reception.) If you’ve never been, I urge you to go, and see for yourself how a bill becomes law. Visit your delegate or senator, sit in on a committee meeting or watch a session from the gallery. Warning: If you’re new to politics, your first visit may be a frustrating experience. Bills move quickly and often die before they reach the floor. Rarely does anyone pay attention in committee. Points of privilege seem to take forever. Legislators carry on while their fellow “gentlemen” text and check Facebook. Bring along a buddy and it’s the perfect backdrop for MST3K. For political geeks like me, it’s fascinating place to hang out. For nonprofits, it’s a very important place: they need to be involved in the political process, but so often are not.

Be a known quantity

At the very least, your senator and delegate should know that your organization exists. Do not wait until the General Assembly is in session to make your organization known. Meet with your representatives at their home office. Invite them to visit your organization to learn more about what you do. Add them to your mailing list. Send them invitations to your events. If you do visit the General Assembly Building, stop by their office and say hello. (It’s a good reminder that they’re in Richmond working for you.) It’s important for elected officials to know your role in the community so that they can help you, and it’s important for you to be a resource that they can turn to information.

Consider Lobbying

Make sure your nonprofit understands the difference between advocacy and lobbying. The IRS has restrictions for 501(c)(3) organizations. Know where the lines are before you cross them. The Center for Nonprofit Management offers an excellent overview of IRS rules regarding lobbying and advocacy by nonprofits.

You are entitled to lobby and advocate for the causes and constituents you represent. Nonprofits should get involved in the political process as it affects government funding for their programs and policies that impact their ability to carry out their mission.

Start by tracking and monitoring legislation. (As I’ve mentioned, Richmond Sunlight is the best tool for doing this.) Nonprofits have first-hand experience and expertise in their field that can play a key role in shaping public policy. For example, the Virginia Organizing Project (VOP), is on the ground in communities across the Commonwealth fighting predatory lending. Who better to rally the troops or help educate legislators than those who are dealing with this on a daily basis?

Visit the General Assembly on an “awareness day” for your cause or designate a “lobby day” for your members to meet with legislators. (Today is Lobby Day for the Charlottesville Chapter of VOP.) For those of you who’ve never participated in something like this, Richmond Sunlight offers a video with tips on how to advocate at the General Assembly.

Even if your nonprofit does not lobby for policy change, it is essential that you communicate to federal, state and local leaders the ways in which your nonprofit serves people in your community.

For more information on lobbying and advocacy, visit:

Center for Lobbying in the Public Interest

Colorado Nonprofit Association Lobbying Toolkit

Minnesota Council of Nonprofits – The Law and Nonprofit Advocacy

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