Building a Coalition of supporters around your issue is one of the most important strategies to advance progress. This requires thinking about the many elements your advocacy will need to be successful: influential supporters, stories about impacted populations, funding, and policy expertise, to name a few. This spreadsheet is intended to help you begin building a coalition of supporters for your work.
You know the saying that the longest journeys start with just one step? Well, changing policy is a long journey. Here are five easy first steps: 1) Join an alliance of advocates. 2) Schedule a meeting with your federal lawmakers’ district staff. 3) Learn who represents you in state, county, and city government. Invite them to come tour. 4) Understand the policies impacting your work. 5) Make sure your social media connects to your elected leaders.
Approaching policymakers to advocate for your mission can be intimidating, but know that elected officials are in office to represent your community. They need and want to know what issues are impacting their constituents and you are uniquely suited to do exactly that. I recently delivered this presentation at a conference for nonprofits focused on substance abuse prevention and mental health. I wanted to share it here as well for your use. This presentation and related handout are meant to help you engage with policymakers around your policy issues.
There are hundreds of public policy issues that are impacting your organization’s ability to achieve its mission. Choosing where to focus your energy is a constant struggle for nonprofits. In policy work, it can often feel like every issue is urgent and yours to fight. It’s important to prioritize policy changes that matter most to your clients with some wide-eyed realism about what the policy change will actually take. This simple tool can be a useful conversation starter for you to consider the menu of policy options before you. Hopefully it can help illuminate the priorities that warrant your attention.
One of the most pervasive misconceptions about nonprofit organizations is that they can’t lobby or advocate for policy change. The fact is that, while there are handful of things nonprofits can’t do or can only do on a limited basis, there are far more that they can and should be doing. Nonprofits are trying to tackle massive social problems, many of them the result of policies and systems. Undoing these social problems will require nonprofits to change the policies and systems that perpetuate inequity.
Check out this overview of what nonprofits can and can’t do to impact public policy. Also available in pdf.