In a time of uncertainty and shifting societal dynamics, nonprofits find themselves navigating treacherous waters. A recent article by the Associated Press sheds light on a troubling trend: nonprofit organizations, particularly 501(c)(3)s, are becoming increasingly wary of lobbying and advocacy efforts. This hesitance stems from a fear of jeopardizing their IRS compliance status and the growing apprehension of being perceived as overly politicized in the current polarized climate.
And I get it, these are monumentally difficult times to be in the business of doing good. But, now is not the time to retreat. It’s a moment to boldly lean into advocacy, embracing it as a powerful tool for change and cultural disruption.
After all, what’s the alternative? We cede power to movements that seek to strip away basic human rights, demolish democracy, and fuel the climate crisis. We all know the stakes are at an all-time high right now. And nonprofits simply cannot effectively do their work if the conditions in which they are fighting for change are fundamentally corrupted.
Embrace advocacy. Change the terms of the debate and change the culture
Nonprofits have always played a pivotal role in shaping public discourse and cultural norms. The current climate is ripe for their influence. Rather than shying away from advocacy, nonprofit organizations should consider it an opportunity to redefine conversations around issues that matter most to the communities and people that they serve. By mobilizing communities in support of solutions that center their needs, nonprofits can exert pressure on decision-makers to allocate resources where they are most needed and best utilized.
And advocacy must extend beyond funding concerns (though funding is necessary and nice!) It’s about speaking up, advocating for social justice, and holding those in power accountable to our vision of a vibrant, multiracial democracy that works for everyone.
Hold them accountable. Nonpartisan voter guides are a critical tool in the advocate toolbox
In an era where misinformation, disinformation, and divisive narratives proliferate, one powerful tool that nonprofits can wield is the nonpartisan voter guide. Creating and disseminating these guides can provide voters with unbiased information about candidates’ stances on critical issues. Let the facts speak for themselves. By facilitating informed decision-making, nonprofits can encourage voters to support candidates who align with their values.
Speaking of values… Nonprofits are critical messengers in defining and upholding values
Research has shown us time and again that voters cast their ballots based on values. Nonprofits, rooted in causes and missions that resonate with these values, are uniquely positioned to communicate with voters. Their authenticity and dedication give them credibility as messengers of change. By actively engaging in advocacy, nonprofits demonstrate their deep commitment to the causes they champion and create the conditions for long-term impact.
Though the landscape for nonprofits might be uncertain, the potential for critical changes to policy and seismic changes to the face of elected leadership through nonprofit advocacy is undeniable. Concerns about IRS compliance and perceived political bias are legitimate, but they shouldn’t deter nonprofit organizations from leveraging all of the tools at their disposal to create a lasting impact in their communities.
By leaning into advocacy instead of away from it, nonprofits can alter the trajectory of discourse and drive progress on issues that can have tangible impacts on folks’ lives. And if ever there was a time where that was needed… isn’t this it?
Christian is the Executive Vice President of M+R Win—a one-stop campaign strategy shop that marries high-level political strategy with expert project management & strategic implementation. When she’s not getting in good trouble, you might find her at a Beyoncé concert or wrangling her 2 amazing kids alongside their chocolate lab, Kima. Yes, the dog is named after a character on The Wire.