The good news about the 2018 mid-term elections is voter turnout was the highest it’s been for a mid-term in a very long time. In some cases, turnout approached the level of a Presidential election—voter engagement is a wonderful thing! But the campaigns themselves along with other events in the news (the pipe-bomb mailings, the massacre at the synagogue in Pittsburgh) also exposed just how deeply divided we are as a nation.
It is tempting to turn it all off, turn away, and try to just get on with our missions. But now is not the time! In fact, for nonprofits today, advocacy is mission-critical.
In her recent article published in the Nov. 17 issue of Nonprofit Quarterly, Yes, You Can—and Should! Nonprofit Advocacy as a Core Competency, Dyana P. Mason wrote, “If any single sector is going to help respond to these critical debates and bring people together, it will be the nonprofit sector.”
For the most part, the nonprofit sector has avoided the erosion of trust that has occurred with many of our institutions, specifically because we are required to be nonpartisan (at least as long as the Johnson Amendment remains in effect). So for now, nonprofit organizations are positioned to remain above the fray.
As Mason states, “In turbulent times such as these, the nonprofit sector can help support and empower the communities they serve, provide backing for common-sense and evidence-based policy solutions, and remind policymakers of the issues facing our communities and country.”
With all our many and varied missions, nonprofits at their core are about making things better. We have played a leading role in many of our society’s most important advancements. And we are uniquely positioned to turn the discussion away from vitriol and toward the process of creating a better future.
So what should we be doing now?
First, stay engaged. Don’t turn away from the important debates of our time. Know the issues and how they relate to your mission. Be able to state your position, in a clear, calm and consistent voice.
Second, be an educator not a proselytizer. Nonprofits are firsthand witnesses to the impacts—good and bad—of public policy. Gather the facts, state them objectively, and share them widely with those you serve, your staff, your supporters, policy-makers and the general public.
Finally, create enthusiasm! Advocacy requires a lot of energy. Especially in the current volatile atmosphere. Build support and excitement by sharing a clear vision of the positive outcomes you are working toward. Help to energize your supporters by reminding them that change can and does happen when we work together.
The midterms are behind us and a new crop of elected officials is preparing to take their seats. They need to be educated and they need to hear from us. The communities we serve look to us for leadership, engagement and information about the issues that matter to them. In the new year to come, the nonprofit community’s opportunity to be a force for positive change in a divided world is in front of us.
As nonprofit advocates in a divided America what is our role? It’s everything.