Want Good Governance? Teach Hard Skills in Nonprofit Advocacy

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CT-State-Capitol

Connecticut State Capital / Dave S

October 19, 2015; ShorelinePlus

In “Reframing Governance II,” David Renz makes the point that some of the most powerful decisions affecting the communities and mission work of nonprofits are made at levels outside the purview of the board. Rather, they are made at the network level and often involve advocacy. So, do you and your board know how to deconstruct your state’s budget, or about the legal parameters about lobbying and campaigning in your state? These skills and knowledge bases should be required for many nonprofits because it allows them more influence over the policymaking and money flows that in many cases define how their missions can be actuated, but few funders and capacity-builders promote them as core competencies. Not so in Connecticut.

Connecticut’s Shoreline Plus website reports on the region’s first “Advocacy Day” to help nonprofits build their knowledge and skills. The day was sponsored by the Fairfield County Community Foundation and the Connecticut Association of Nonprofits, and attracted over 100 attendees from executive directors to board members and volunteers.

“We created Advocacy Day because to create sustainable improvements in our communities, partnering with the public sector is critical. Advocacy Day gave our nonprofit partners a chance to understand the legislative process and learn first-hand from our elected officials how to work effectively with them,” the president of the Community Foundation told Shoreline Plus.

The sessions spanned from the most basic—the Connecticut state senate majority leader set the stage for the skill-building, storytelling, and peer learning program in his opening remarks: “Don’t assume that because you’ve been around for decades that people know what you do”—to the more advanced, which included the uses of allies like state agencies and the thorny issues of implementation work once a bill is passed. The event also provided attendees with networking opportunities.

Nate Snow of TFA, which is a master at lobbying at every level, made a strong point about the need to integrate data and passion in the fashioning of advocacy strategies. “We tend to get caught up in data. You need to match facts with the right story. How am I connecting to the relationship and the emotional appeal of that decision maker?… Connect with humanity and emotions.”

NPQ would be interested in hearing about other efforts to push advocacy as a core competency of effective organizations and about readers’ experiences in lobbying successfully for policy change.—Larry Kaplan and Ruth McCambridge