IPA Blog

Amplifying Impact: The Crucial Role of Advocacy in Non-Profit Organizations

Wednesday, May 22, 2024
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This blog was written by Jacqueline Kronk CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of St. Joseph County and Freedom Kolb CEO of The Milk Bank, members of the 2024 Mutz Philanthropic Leadership Institute. 

In the realm of non-profit organizations, the pursuit of social change and the betterment of communities is paramount. Yet, achieving these goals often requires more than just good intentions and dedicated service. It necessitates advocacy—the powerful tool that amplifies voices, influences policies, and drives meaningful change. In this blog post, we delve into the importance of advocacy for non-profits and distinguish it from the often-misunderstood concept of lobbying. As we heard from Lauren Box, an associate from Barnes and Thornburg, during our recent session, “While all lobbying is advocacy, not all advocacy is lobbying.”

Understanding Advocacy

Advocacy, at its core, is about championing a cause or issue to bring about positive change. It involves raising awareness, educating stakeholders, and mobilizing support to address societal challenges. Unlike direct service provision, advocacy focuses on tackling systemic issues by influencing policies, practices, and public perceptions.


The Importance of Advocacy for Non-Profits

  • Amplifying Impact: Non-profits exist to make a difference in the world, and advocacy is the amplifier of their impact. By advocating for policy changes or social reforms, organizations can address root causes, scale their impact, and create lasting change beyond individual interventions. Giving Voice to the Voiceless: Advocacy empowers marginalized communities and individuals by amplifying their voices. Non-profits often serve as catalysts for advocacy efforts, providing a platform for those directly affected by social injustices to share their stories, concerns, and aspirations.
  • Building Alliances and Coalitions: Collaboration is key to driving change at scale. Through advocacy, non-profits can build alliances with like-minded organizations, community groups, and policymakers, pooling resources and expertise to tackle complex issues collaboratively.
  • Shaping Policies and Practices: Advocacy is instrumental in shaping public policies and institutional practices. By engaging with policymakers, conducting research, and mobilizing grassroots support, non-profits can influence legislative agendas, regulatory frameworks, and corporate policies to better serve their constituents.
  • Fostering Civic Engagement: Advocacy encourages civic participation and democratic dialogue. By engaging constituents in advocacy campaigns, non-profits not only raise awareness about pressing issues but also inspire individuals to become active citizens, advocating for change in their communities and beyond.
  • Advocacy vs. Lobbying: While advocacy and lobbying are often used interchangeably, they serve distinct purposes and are subject to different legal regulations. It is recommended that organizations consult legal counsel and put an appropriate accounting and compliance system to track and monitor lobbying activities.
  • Advocacy: Advocacy encompasses a broad range of activities aimed at promoting a cause, raising awareness, and influencing public opinion. This can include public education campaigns, grassroots organizing, coalition-building, and direct communication with policymakers. Advocacy efforts are typically focused on advancing the mission and goals of a non-profit organization. Permitted activities may include, but are not limited to, non-partisan analysis, study or research, attempting to influence an administrative agency, executive branch lobbying, or attempting to influence or educate legislators on non-legislative matters.
  • Lobbying: Lobbying specifically refers to activities intended to influence specific legislation or government decisions. Generally falling into either direct lobbying or grassroots lobbying, these activities can involve direct communication with elected officials, advocating for or against specific legislation or regulatory measures, or influencing the public to do so. Non-profits engaged in lobbying activities are subject to certain legal restrictions and reporting requirements, particularly regarding the use of funds for lobbying purposes. Public charities may engage in lobbying so long as it is not a “substantial part” of the activities of the organization.

In the pursuit of social change and community empowerment, advocacy stands as a powerful tool for non-profit organizations at the local, state and federal level. By amplifying voices, shaping policies, and fostering civic engagement, advocacy enables non-profits to fulfill their missions and drive meaningful change in society. It is through advocacy that non-profits can truly make their voices heard, champion their causes, and create a more just and equitable world for all.

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