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Something Scary: Fewer Nonprofits Are Engaging in Advocacy

With the onslaught of news and social media, we are inundated with stories about policies and politics – it seems like it is everywhere and everyone is engaged.

However, that is not the case. And our democracy is not better for it.

Last summer, The Independent Sector released the report, “The Retreat of Influence: Exploring the Decline of Nonprofit Advocacy and Public Engagement,” which analyzed nonprofit advocacy trends from the last few decades.

And it is scary.

This long and rich report spotlights how fewer nonprofit organizations are engaging in advocacy activities than in the past.

Scary Finding #1: A significantly lower proportion of nonprofits report advocating or lobbying compared to 20 years ago.

And I think we can all agree that our country and communities have many challenges that require systemic policy change.

Scary Finding #2: Almost 70% of nonprofits don’t engage in any advocacy or lobbying activities.

And while most nonprofit organizations are focused on mitigating the effects of bad policies - by providing direct services - we also need nonprofits to focus on changing policies so we no longer need to attend to the negative outcomes.

Scary Finding #3: Today, significantly fewer nonprofits know advocacy activities they are legally allowed to do compared to 20 years ago.

Even after 25 years in the biz, I am still surprised when I hear nonprofit leaders say that they can’t engage in advocacy.


Yes, I am yelling because it is ridiculous. My whole career I have only done nonprofit advocacy. And I don’t think I have been doing illegal activities for prominent organizations for so long.

The report also showed that many nonprofits' “organizational attitudes about advocacy” are one of the top barriers to engaging in advocacy.

And even when these organizations were educated about the IRS rules, funding considerations, and coalition engagement, they still were not convinced.

This means nonprofit leaders are self-selecting to not engage in advocacy!

There is a lot more to say about this report, but for now, I just want nonprofit leaders to absorb this information and think about what this means for the problems we are trying to solve.

Because fewer nonprofits engaging in our policymaking is really scary to me, I'm offering a free 30-minute strategy session to answer any questions you have about how you can use advocacy to meet your organization’s mission.

Let's talk about how to turn around these scary trends.


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