Why Nonprofits Should Participate in Public Policy

Advocacy is an essential component of a nonprofit organization’s ability to meet its mission. Organizations have a responsibility to serve as a resource to elected officials who rely upon the experience and expertise of the nonprofit sector to inform their understanding of the issues and the policy choices they make at every level of government. As nonprofits engage in the public dialogue about issues that impact their constituents and organizations, basic frameworks for thinking about policy provide a context for the work.

What is Public Policy?

In its most basic form, public policy is the set of decisions that we make about how we will care for one another, our communities and the land.

What is Advocacy?

Advocacy is embracing and promoting a position and point of view on an issue. Advocacy is a broad and ongoing effort to advance an issue in civic engagement and legislative cycles. While sometimes a group has one issue to champion in a legislative arena, the real long-term work of building policies involves a cycle of advocacy in which nonprofits engage in policy efforts, building support for change.

How Do Nonprofits Impact Policy?

Within the cycle of advocacy, nonprofits work on specific policy issues by defining the situation and then using available strategies to work toward their goals. To set goals, nonprofits address four basic questions:

  1. What is the specific problem or opportunity that we need to address?
  2. What do we want to have happen?
  3. Who decides?
  4. How do we influence them?

In answering these questions, a nonprofit sets policy goals and creates core messages for talking about the issue. What is the policy change that we want? How do we make the case for our position?

With goals and core messages in place, advocates have three basic strategies available: direct lobbying, grassroots action for building and sustaining a base of support, and media advocacy.


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