Advocacy is a Valuable Tool for Our Sector
Sam Bressi for LNP
This Op Ed was published on August 14th, 2022
In my work with the Lancaster County Community Foundation, I have the pleasure of partnering with a wide array of community benefit (nonprofit) organizations. These organizations serve our community in many ways — working in areas from housing to the arts, youth education to historic preservation, poverty alleviation to animal welfare, just to name a few.
It is vital that community benefit organizations are crystal-clear on their mission and purpose, are anchored in their values, and strategic in how they work to deliver on their promise of community service. High-performing community benefit organizations use every tool in their toolshed to drive impact and achieve their goals. One of those tools is advocacy.
Advocacy refers to support for, or recommendation of, a particular cause or policy. Advocacy is nonpartisan — it doesn’t seek to advance one political candidate over another; rather, it is a means by which organizations and individuals can express their policy opinions to elected officials, community leaders and the community at large. To be clear, engaging in partisan politics — supporting specific candidates in electoral campaigns, for instance — is expressly prohibited by IRS regulations that govern the nonprofit sector.
As examples of advocacy, it is easy to imagine an environmentally focused organization advocating publicly for policies that enhance clean water or natural land preservation. Another example might be a health-focused nonprofit advocating for greater public investment in health care by submitting testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives. Yet another example might be a nonprofit, whose mission is housing, advocating to state officials for greater public investment in affordable and workforce apartment units.
Advocacy by community benefit organizations is an important tool to effect community change. It is in no way an out-of-character or out-of-bounds activity for nonprofits. Advocacy is an essential and potentially powerful tool that all high-performing, leadership-oriented nonprofits should be engaged in.
As members of a rich and diverse community, we recognize that there are a multitude of divergent perspectives on a range of topics that are important and relevant to our community’s future. We will inevitably encounter issues on which we don’t necessarily see eye to eye. It’s important for every community member to engage in civil discourse, to listen to, and attempt to understand those with whom they disagree.
Community leaders, decision-makers and elected officials should work to hold themselves to the highest possible standards of civil discourse. The Community Foundation strongly supports those leaders in the nonprofit sector who passionately advocate on issues, policies and causes that are important to them and that align with their organizational values, and the foundation supports the change they are trying to make in our community. In fact, in 2023, we will be offering local nonprofits resources and training to strengthen their capacity to advocate effectively. The important work of the community benefit sector — which seeks to improve our community for all — should be pursued vigorously using all the tools in our collective toolshed, including advocacy.
Sam Bressi is president and CEO of the Lancaster County Community Foundation.