Make advocacy work with state policymakers
Over my two decades of advocacy for nonprofit human services agencies in Olympia, there has been both enormous change as well as continuity in the type of advocacy done with public officials.
The state’s policymaking process is still largely the same as it has been, with elected officials needing to hear from nonprofit organizations’ staff, boards, volunteers and clients in order to understand and adequately represent their community’s interests in these areas. Without this advocacy from nonprofit organizations, elected officials and other decision-makers are left with their own internal sets of assumptions (which may be outdated or inaccurate) to decide the fates of programs, organizations and clients. In the absence of clear and convincing advocacy from nonprofit organizations, there is even the risk that public decision-makers may conclude that “no news is good news”—existing policies and funding for human services are stable, functional and adequate.
The differences now from the past for nonprofit human services organizations are the higher stakes and the greater and easier advocacy opportunities that improved technology provides. Because of the still-sluggish state of the economy, there continue to be more people in greater need and less in resources than was previously available. Human services clients, in many cases, cannot advocate directly on their own behalf—they are too busy just doing what it takes to survive and find and climb the ladder of opportunity, so if public resources are going to be successfully prioritized for these purposes, nonprofit organizations need to see that advocacy is an integral part of their service mission. Despite severe cutbacks in recent years, the public sector still comprises the majority of funding for human services in King County.
As the state’s overall budget shrinks, the fierce competition for resources has not always favored human services versus other important needs—education, higher education, environmental protection, economic development, transportation, debt reduction, and employee recruitment and retention—and human services has seen a share of cuts that has often been disproportionate. This has forced innovation and cooperation, but there is still great need to break down policy and funding “silos” in order to promote greater integration and flexibility. Again, without nonprofit organizations advocating for a role at the table for such discussions, there is risk that such decisions are made in a counter-productive fashion.
As technology has improved, there is an amazing range of ways to have your individual or organizational voices heard: phone calls, emails, telephonic town halls, webinars, e-newsletters, texts, blogs, social media like Facebook and Twitter, websites, videos. Without knowing which of the electronic cacophony will resonate best with your targeted public officials, it is important to utilize as many of these emerging tools as possible. No organization can afford to leave any stone unturned in its advocacy efforts.
In addition to this increased use of technology, the absolute best way to help your elected official understand the policy and funding needs of your organization and the clients you serve remains meeting in person with those who represent you—at a coffee shop, at their office or for a tour of your facility. Face-to-face time between decision-makers and staff, volunteers and/or clients of a nonprofit organization (a meet-up in which you have a clear and concrete message and request) will do more to help your organization’s mission than any other methodology. It takes work to coordinate, but your returns will often be commensurate with the amount of time and energy you invest in such activities.