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.
- 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.