Friday, January 27, 2012
Nonprofits engaging in public policy advocacy has often been a controversial topic, and a recent mix of reports and articles indicate that there are still widely divergent perspectives on the wisdom, benefits, and costs of such advocacy. Here are some notable examples:
- ARNOVA's Finances of Nonprofits and Public Policy: Focused on the financial challenges now facing nonprofits and related emerging public policy issues, this report is from a June 2011 symposium and describes "the challenges now facing nonprofits in the realm of public policy, especially as they pertain to the financing of nonprofits presently and in the future. The report outlines an agenda for research needed to develop a better understanding of these challenges and issues."
- NCRP Report on Foundation Funding of Advocacy: Titled "Leveraging Limited Dollars: How Grantmakers Achieve Tangible Benefits by Funding Policy and Community Engagement," this report asserts that even modest financial support for nonprofit advocacy can lead to large benefits for marginalized groups. Based on a study of 110 organizations, it concludes that for every $1 invested in such advocacy a $115 in benefits flowed to such groups or over $26 billion in total.
- "Pandering for Profit: The Transformation of Health Charities to Lobbyists": For a more critical perspective on at least one aspect of nonprofit advocacy, there is this article by James T. Bennett (George Mason University - Department of Economics). Here is the abstract:
This study explores the metamorphosis of three major voluntary health agencies — American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, and American Lung Association — from charities supported primary by donations into lobbying organizations seeking taxpayers’ funds and grants from commercial enterprises in exchange for supporting private or political initiatives only peripherally related to their charitable missions. Prior to the 1980s, lobbying was all but nonexistent, limited to seeking increased funding for disease research. Fearing loss of tax-exempt status, health charities largely avoided political advocacy. The AIDS movement revealed that vast sums could be acquired from government by intense lobbying, and this advocacy evidently did not threaten tax-exempt status. All three of these charities copied the AIDS movement and targeted tobacco tax revenues at the state level. The American Lung Association, in particular, has acted as a public relations flack for both government agencies and corporations — selling its charitable reputation as a selfless entity concerned only with public health for self-interested purposes. The implications of this transition for both the charities themselves and the public interest are analyzed and discussed.