Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Core Strategy #6 Build Capacity for Effective Public Policy and Advocacy

In an earlier post, I listed 10 key strategies that need consideration in the strategic plans of nonprofit organizations. The first strategy described in that post is “Embed capacity building into the fabric of your nonprofit". The second strategy is to "Build an exceptional board". The third strategy discussed in my last post is to engage in accelerated strategic thinking and planning. The fourth strategy is to "Forge partnerships, alliances and mergers to increase mission impact and sustainability". The fifth strategy is to "Develop board and staff succession plans".

The sixth strategy is to build capacity for effective public policy and advocacy. Now more than ever, nonprofits need to engage in advocacy and public policy work. Direct services, while important, are not sufficient to advance the missions of many nonprofits. Building internal capacity needed to engage in advocacy effectively involves much more than acquiring advocacy skills. A solid foundation for effective advocacy requires attention to the following things:

• Board-level commitment. A solid foundation for advocacy and public policy work begins with a board level commitment. The advocacy work requires the full knowledge and support of the Board of Directors. Advocacy needs to be viewed as a central strategy to achieve mission impact.

• An established issue agenda. There needs to be an agreed-upon process for determining which issues the nonprofit will advocate on. If the nonprofit is the local presence of a regional or national organization, guidance on which issues to focus on is usually provided.

• Someone designated to move the work along. Nonprofits that engage in advocacy and public policy work in a serious way have identified a staff person who is responsible for the work.

• Advocacy linked to strategic plan vs. an add-on element. The commitment to advocacy is reflected in concrete strategies and action plans that are part of the organization's overall strategic plan.

• Board recruitment linked to mission-driven advocacy. Prospective board members are fully informed about the organization's commitment to advocacy. Furthermore, collective and individual board responsibilities relative to advancing the organization's issue agenda are clearly communicated in advance.

• Building a pressure-resistant revenue base. "He who pays the piper calls the tune". Often, nonprofits will shy away from advocacy for fear that high-profile work of this type will alienate current and prospective funders. Plans to increase the amount of unrestricted dollars are essential if the nonprofit intends to engage in advocacy and public policy work, especially on the issues that are more controversial.

The great news: lots of excellent resources on the subject of nonprofit advocacy. Here is a starter bibliography:

A Citizen's Guide to Lobbying by Donald E. deKieffer.
SPARC Building Capacity for Public Policy Tool Kit.
Effective Advocacy at All Levels of Government. Center for Lobbying in the Public Interest and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
Guide to State Advocacy by NP Action, a project of OMB Watch.
Click Here for Change: Your Guide to the E-Advocacy Revolution by Policy Link.
The Center for Lobbying in the Public Interest.
NCNA Policy & Advocacy Resources.