In the late 1960s, I worked for a not-for-profit agency in rural Missouri that cared for kids who were separated from their parents for various reasons. Back then our job was to love the kids and provide a safe and structured home for these children so they could hopefully return to their families and become productive members of society.
We also had to raise money to keep our doors open. So, several days a week I would go talk to local service clubs, churches, chamber of commerce, trade groups, etc., Whatever money was collected through my efforts was what the agency operated on. Somehow, we survived.
Occasionally we got involved in advocacy issues that benefited our kids, but we were simply too busy to spend much time on this kind of activity—or so we thought. Those of us in the nonprofit world today can no longer follow this outdated approach. In today’s world, nonprofit leaders must treat advocacy as an essential part of our agencies mission and purpose. In fact several years ago, this foundation included the word advocacy into the foundation mission statement.
Advocacy can take many forms: community organizing, policy-maker education, public awareness campaigns, coalition building, lobbying, public forums, policy analysis and research, and public education. Depending on your IRS tax status, most of these activities are legal strategies for any nonprofit agency to adopt.
The Health Forward Foundation and the REACH Healthcare Foundation have joined forces to help nonprofits become more proficient and intentional in how advocacy work is conducted and measured. I believe that advocacy on behalf of the clients we serve is an essential part of the mission of every nonprofit, and I encourage each area nonprofit to include these words in your agency mission statement. As part of this effort, Health Forward and REACH jointly released a technical assistance opportunity that provides direct service organizations with one-on-one technical assistance to strengthen their advocacy work.
In my opinion, if those of us in the nonprofit world are not involved in active and ongoing advocacy efforts on behalf of our clients, then we are simply not doing our jobs.
To learn more about the advocacy training provided by Health Forward and REACH, please view this pdf.