Monthly resources from FISA Foundation
Issue 2, October 2017
October theme:
 Developing an Advocacy Policy
Why have an advocacy policy?
Many nonprofit board members get nervous around the topic of advocacy and lobbying. Most don’t understand the nuances of the rules, and the stakes for violating them are high. The majority of nonprofits are small and are already operating with stretched resources and without an in-house “specialist” to focus on advocacy. Out of an abundance of caution for the rules and concern for the already overworked staff, it can feel safer to insist that the agency avoid advocacy activities altogether-to play it safe. And so a large number of nonprofits operate with no policy that governs advocacy activities.
 
But there are times and mission-related issues that compel nonprofit leaders to step forward as advocates. This could mean making phone calls to elected officials on pending legislation or budget issues, engaging in meetings about the impact of policy and regulatory changes on clients/recipients, or writing a letter to the editor. The absence of a policy leaves nonprofit executives vulnerable to being second guessed or criticized by internal or external stakeholders, without feeling confident that they have the full support and buy-in of the board.
 
If your nonprofit organization doesn’t have a policy about advocacy activities, we strongly suggest developing one.

Important components that an advocacy policy should include :
  • An opening statement that describes advocacy and/or lobbying as a vehicle for the agency to fulfill its mission. It may also include:
  • Definitions and examples of both advocacy and lobbying;
  • A statement of the agency’s commitment to complying with all state and federal laws that govern these activities; 
  • An overt acknowledgement of adherence to the federal requirement that advocacy and lobbying activities be strictly nonpartisan.
  • A reference to the federal guidelines imposed by the IRS, the Pennsylvania’s Lobbying Disclosure Law (Act 134 of 2006), and any other regulatory requirements or the restrictions of specific funding sources that impact advocacy or lobbying activities.[1]
 
  • Decision making criteria: how the agency will choose which issues to advocate on, and which specific activities to engage in, as well as parameters for activities that the agency will not pursue. 
 
  • Roles and responsibilities for board members, board committees, and senior managers related to decision-making and internal communication about advocacy or lobbying on behalf of the organization. Decision-making authority may differ based on specific activities.

  • Defining the advocacy team. Clarity on the staff who are responsible for or allowed to engage in advocacy as representatives of the agency. (Note advocacy responsibilities should be explicit in job descriptions.) The policy may also clarify criteria for staff and board members who wish to advocate as citizens, to ensure that any personal activities remain separate from the organization.
[1] Each of these bodies may employ different definitions of advocacy, impose different requirements for tracking, registration and reporting. Internal Revenue Service Form 990 requires reporting on activities and expenditures related to influencing legislation.

Information adapted from:
Avner, Marcia.  The Lobbying and Advocacy Handbook for Nonprofit Organizations: Shaping Public Policy at the State and Local Levels St. Paul, MN: Wilder Foundation. Second Edition 2013.

Libby, Pat.  The Lobbying Strategy Handbook.  Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE. 2012.
Avner, Marcia.  The Lobbying and Advocacy Handbook for Nonprofit Organizations: Shaping Public Policy at the State and Local Levels St. Paul, MN: Wilder Foundation. Second Edition 2013.
 
BOLDER ADVOCACY: An initiative of the Alliance for Justice is a national go-to resource about nonprofits engaging in advocacy and lobbying. See this sample policy for 501c3 organizations governing advocacy during election seasons (like now). They also have a downloadable guide to advocacy recordkeeping for public charities that explains the types of advocacy 501(c)(3)s need to document and track. 
 
Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations offers a series of educational packets related to its Standards for Excellence ® Program that are free of charge to its members and for a fee of $15 per packet for nonmembers. Packet #21 – Public Policy Advocacy: Promoting Public Participation contains useful guidance on developing a policy and includes several sample policies. Request by contacting Amy Plank, amy@pano.org . For a list of the complete contents see Standards for Excellence Educational Resource Packet Contents .