Monday, August 7, 2023
Independent Sector is out with a new study regarding Civil Society's declining participation in public advocacy. Here are some conclusions from "The Retreat of Influence: Exploring the Decline of Nonprofit Advocacy and Public Engagement."
Nonprofits play an essential role in promoting social change and addressing societal issues. One way that nonprofits can achieve this is through policy advocacy. However, the 2022 Public Engagement Nonprofit Survey (PENS) project found that nonprofit engagement in policy advocacy and lobbying activities has significantly decreased over the last 20 years.
• Only 31% of nonprofits report engagement in advocacy and/or lobbying over the last five years. Mission plays the most important role in determining nonprofit engagement in advocacy and lobbying.
• Approximately 70% of nonprofits that engaged in advocacy and/or lobbying report that their mission encourages such engagement, while non-engaged nonprofits often report that policy engagement is not applicable to their mission or that their mission discourages advocacy.
• In fact, about 56% of non-engaged nonprofits report advocacy is not applicable to their mission and 18% believe that their mission discourages advocacy.
• Additionally, nonprofits today are less aware of the advocacy and lobbying activities they are legally allowed to do compared to 20 years ago.
• In 2000, over half of 501(c)(3) public charities (54%) knew they could support or oppose federal legislation, compared to less than one-third (32%) of nonprofits that are aware of that fact today. The 2022 PENS project also examined how nonprofit engagement in advocacy and lobbying interacts with their engagement in other forms of public affairs.
• Only 13.8% of nonprofits conduct some type of voter engagement with 5% of nonprofits conducting nonpartisan voter registration and 8% of nonprofits doing voter education work. Among nonprofits that engage in policy advocacy, one in five provide people with nonpartisan voter information.
• Nonprofits that belong to collaborative groups advocate at higher rates than those that are not
members. Of nonprofits that belong to local, state, or national coalitions, 57% advocate or lobby, compared to only 12% of nonprofits that do not belong to such coalitions.
• Nonprofits engaged in advocacy and/or lobbying invest more time and resources in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) activities compared to non-engaged nonprofits.
• While a majority of nonprofits have a DEI statement, only 36% of them engage in advocacy or lobbying to create more equitable systems. The main findings in the 2022 PENS project suggest several challenges and opportunities for nonprofits when it comes to policy advocacy.
• First, nonprofits need to be aware of the advocacy activities they are legally allowed to do. Nonprofits should prioritize educating themselves on their legal rights and responsibilities when it comes to policy advocacy to ensure they are engaging in activities that are legally permissible.
• Second, mission plays a significant role in determining nonprofit policy engagement. When nonprofits do not engage in advocacy or lobbying, it is often because they believe doing so is not applicable to their mission or that their mission discourages advocacy. Nonprofits should consider how engagement in advocacy can contribute to and align with their mission and values, even if this engagement may not come in the form of direct service delivery.
• Third, joining collaborative groups can be an effective way to increase policy advocacy rates among nonprofits. Collaborative groups can provide nonprofits with additional resources and support to engage in policy advocacy effectively.
• Fourth, nonprofits that invest in DEI activities should consider strategically engaging in advocacy and lobbying as one pathway to creating more equitable systems.
In conclusion, nonprofits can and should consider policy advocacy as one strategic approach to advancing their mission and values. As a first step, nonprofits and those who work with them should be more aware of their legal rights to engage in policy issues and nonpartisan voter engagement. We also encourage nonprofits to join collaborative groups and associations of nonprofits with similar interests, invest in DEI activities, and promote nonpartisan voter engagement. By doing so, nonprofits can increase their mission impact, promote equity, increase civic participation, contribute to democracy, and drive changes in their communities that align with their values.
darryll k. jones