The Tri-Valley Nonprofit Alliance (TVNPA) recently held a virtual meeting to help local nonprofits learn the skill of advocacy.
Hosted by TVNPA president and founder Kathy Young, the meeting included former assemblymember Catharine Baker and advocate Jennifer Fearing. During the Zoom call, Baker and Fearing both discussed ways nonprofits large and small can represent their organizations and promote their causes. Young said support of nonprofits during the COVID-19 crisis is imperative.
“The nonprofits are such a critical part of the tapestry of our community, and they need to be able to speak out about their missions at the government level and the local levels and to donors, etc.,” Young said. “A lot of nonprofits are intimidated by advocacy, so we have been trying to make it more accessible to our nonprofits.”
Young opened the meeting by stating the importance of advocacy at a time when state and local budgets are being slashed and business is anything but usual.
“We need to learn to advocate for ourselves,” said Young. “At this time, there are little to no volunteers, and programs are being cut. How do we keep going? We are going to explore how to develop deep relationships and broad networks with stakeholders.”
Baker and Fearing both have experience in advocacy – Baker as a policy maker in the state assembly and Fearing as a cause advocate with Fearless Advocacy.
“Advocacy is exactly what nonprofits do and should do more of,” Baker said emphatically. “Engage in your community, make sure people know you are there, and make an impact. Make sure your policy makers understand what you do, the impact you have and the contribution you make.”
Baker spoke from her experience as an assemblymember when nonprofits came to her asking for support. She said it is important to develop relationships with key decision makers at the state, county and local levels, so when budgets are parceled out, your organization is on the list.
Fearing noted the state is facing a 25% budget shortfall this year and nonprofits need to work harder than ever to make themselves and their impacts known.
“Imagine if those cut decisions get made without your input?” Fearing said. “We need compelling voices to address social problems.”
Both women offered tangible steps nonprofit leaders and board members can take to build themselves an effective network. Getting to know legislators’ staff members, going into meetings with a specific “ask,” being able to articulate what your organization does and exactly how it impacts the community and respecting time limits on meetings were at the top of the list. They also encouraged nonprofit representatives not to pass up a face-to-face opportunity up, scheduled or not.
“If you run into them at an event, say hi, introduce yourself,” Fearing suggested. “Get noticed when larger organizations are in front of you by building those relationships, being creative, planning and executing.”
Young asked Fearing to touch on lobbying, as some organizations consider it unnecessary or off limits. Fearing said lobbying does have legal consequences, and nonprofits have a special set of regulations, but leaders should educate themselves and use the tools available to them.
“Avail yourself of readily available resources that will help you,” she said. “Lobbying is a lot of walking and talking, and during COVID, it’s a lot of talking, not so much the walking. Lobbying is like learning to play a game of 3D chess . . . nonprofits can’t be scared to do that. Not only is it possible to be a principled and ethical lobbyist, it’s a real possibility for nonprofits.”
She finished by recommending any groups who were unsure how to lobby get advocacy education.
After the meeting, Young expressed her appreciation for the actionable steps given by Baker and Fearing.
“It’s so important to pay attention to all the nonprofits,” said Young. “One of my concerns right now is budgets are being cut tremendously, and a lot of our nonprofits are going to be struggling . . . many of their volunteers are in the vulnerable category, so they don’t have volunteers and they have so much more need and services to provide . . . I really want to make sure people are caring for their nonprofits because they are such a critical part of our community.”
For more information on TVNPA, visit https://tvnpa.org/.