Five Ways Nonprofits Can Participate in Public Policy

By Dionne Clemons, PhD

To successfully carry out your organization’s mission, nonprofits must advocate for their stakeholders. Getting involved in shaping the policies that impact your nonprofit’s programs and services will aid in positioning your nonprofit as a partner in determining the decisions that affect those you serve.

The ‘Strengthening Nonprofit Advocacy Project” (SNAP) study conducted by OMB Watch, Tufts University and Charity Lobbying in the Public Interest (CLPI) highlights several ways nonprofits can participate in influencing public policy.

1.  Understand the importance of public policy participation. The SNAP study found that nonprofit executive directors fear getting involved in the public policy making process for several reasons including being confused about the process and having a lack of resources to consistently participate in the process. Public policy participation is a crucial capacity building function as decisions made by policymakers often affect the funding needed to operate the services and programs your organization provides.

2. Organize and mobilize your stakeholders. Getting your board members, volunteers, donors, staff and those you serve involved by testifying before elected officials, meeting informally and e-mailing elected officials, and voting on policy matters can ensure that awareness is raised around the policy issues impacting your organizational outcomes. Encouraging basic civic participation amongst your stakeholders can aid in engaging your stakeholders in the policymaking process.

3. Embrace the “L” word. The SNAP study found that nonprofit executive directors view “lobbying” as a loaded word and affects how they view policy participation. Educating elected officials about your organization’s great work; advocating for those served by your nonprofit; and building relationships with stakeholders who are like-minded in your organization’s mission, vision, and values are all forms of lobbying.

4. Get educated. Having a good grasp on the laws governing lobbying and understanding how to lobby are useful for navigating the policymaking process.

5. Make public policy work a priority. As a part of your organization’s strategic planning process, identify which types of public policy issues to engage in, gain buy-in from your board, donors, volunteers and staff, and establish specific goals and objectives towards determining the actions your nonprofit will take in actively weighing in on the issue.

Public policy decisions often affect nonprofits’ mission, vision, and values. Understanding and engaging in the public policy making process can oftentimes have just as great of an impact on your organization’s success as the programs and services you provide.

Has your organization been successful in engaging in public policy issues? What other tips would you share?

Why is it important for nonprofits to engage in the public policy making process?

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