Amplifying your voice and advancing your mission

The Center supports advocacy for the nonprofit sector to ensure governments understand the critical role nonprofits play in nurturing stronger communities.

Stay current with monthly blogs from our advocacy expert, Betty Dean

8 Advocacy Tips from the Legislators’ Side of the Desk

In December 2018, the Center hosted a panel discussion in Prince William County entitled An Insider’s Perspective: Advocacy Efforts That Work!” The panelists included three individuals with extensive experience as staff to legislators. They shared some of their insider tips about how to make the most effective use of your time meeting with legislators to advocate for your mission and issues important to your organization.

The panelists were:

  • Philip Scranage, current Legislative Aide to Virginia State Senator Scott Surovell
  • Devon Cabot, current Vice President at Two Capitols Consulting, former Legislative Aide to Virginia State Senator Jeremy McPike and former Chief of Staff to Woodbridge District Supervisor Frank Principi (Prince William County Board of Supervisors)
  • Ross Snare, current Director of Government Affairs, Prince William Chamber of Commerce and former Legislative Aide to Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart, former Legislative Aide to Fairfax County Supervisor Pat Herrity and former Session Aide to Majority Caucus Chairman Delegate Tim Hugo.

Strategically timed to take place in advance of the Virginia legislative session convening in January, the event drew nonprofits from the Prince William County area. However, the information shared is relevant for all nonprofits looking to advocate with elected officials. So we wanted to share some of these key tips and advice from legislative “insiders”.

8 tips to strengthen your impact when meeting with elected officials:
  1. Most important – Come Informed! Before meeting with your legislator know where he/she stands on the issue you want to discuss. If it’s a specific bill, know the status of that bill and whether your legislator agrees or disagrees with your position. Know what committees the legislator sits on and whether or not the committee has already voted on that bill. (Don’t waste the legislator’s time or yours by advocating for a bill that has already died in committee!)
  2. Be a constituent of that legislator or have a constituent with you. Legislators want most of all to hear from constituents in their own district.
  3. Build coalitions: If your organization does not have constituents in a particular legislator’s district, consider partnering with another organization that does. Note: the panelists agreed this is an effective tactic that nonprofits often fail to utilize.
  4. Quantify the impact. Effective advocates will be able to combine personal stories with quantifiable evidence of how the issue they are discussing will impact lives.
  5. Bring a “one-pager” about your organization—what you do, who you serve and why it matters. Be sure the legislator’s staff knows how to follow up with you with any questions. Offer to provide testimony if relevant.
  6. Bring an appropriate number of people. Among topics discussed was whether or not it is effective to bring large groups of people served to an advocacy meeting. Since time is so limited (and offices are so small), large groups were seen as less effective in educating a legislator about the specifics of an issue. The panelists viewed this tactic as most effective in a) relationship building with the legislator and b) engaging the people you serve. They suggested that town halls are a great opportunity to bring a large group. Panelists also felt that calls and emails stating your position on an issue are more effective than petitions.
  7. Make sure you get the Legislative Aide’s business card before you leave!
  8. Build a relationship. Most of all, our insiders emphasized the importance of building a relationship with your legislator over time. Invite them to visit your organization. Show up at their town halls, follow them on social media and send them your announcements. As one panelist put it, “If the first time you’re talking to your legislator is in Richmond, you’re doing it wrong”.

Previous blogs:

Advocacy in a divided America—what is our role?

Thinking differently about advocacy

Effective advocacy in one word: VOTE

Lobbying as a nonprofit

According to the IRSIn general, no organization may qualify for section 501(c)(3) status if a substantial part of its activities is attempting to influence legislation (commonly known as lobbying).  A 501(c)(3) organization may engage in some lobbying, but too much lobbying activity risks loss of tax-exempt status.

An organization will be regarded as attempting to influence legislation if it contacts, or urges the public to contact, members or employees of a legislative body for the purpose of proposing, supporting, or opposing legislation, or if the organization advocates the adoption or rejection of legislation.

Organizations may, however, involve themselves in issues of public policy without the activity being considered as lobbying.  For example, organizations may conduct educational meetings, prepare and distribute educational materials, or otherwise consider public policy issues in an educational manner without jeopardizing their tax-exempt status.

To discover whether or not your current lobbying efforts are legally allowed under the Internal Revenue Code, check out these two tests, provided by the IRS: 

Measuring Lobbying: Substantial Part Test

Measuring Lobbying Activity: Expenditure Test

 

Local Elected Officials

For nonprofits located in the district, you can find elected officials at this link Washington, DC.

For nonprofits in Maryland you can find elected officials for state and counties at these links: Montgomery County and Prince George’s County.

For nonprofits in the state of Virginia, you can find elected officials at Who’s My Legislator.

Nonprofit Vote

There are countless reasons why people involved with nonprofits should vote in every election and encourage their communities to do the same. We represent a large network of people that deal with social issues that are important to everyone.

According to NonprofitVote.org, "voter engagement is a critical part of nonprofit work because it not only empowers the people and the communities we serve, but it also helps us further our missions. Voter engagement makes our nonprofits relevant both during and after elections, helping to make us part of critical public policy discussions and allowing us to weigh in on our issues. Voting is associated with better health outcomes, cohesive communities, more effective advocacy, and more."

Registering to Vote:The first step to making sure the nonprofit sector’s voice is heard in all elections is to encourage widespread voter registration. The more people registered, the louder the sector’s voice can be!

Voters should make sure they know where their polling place is ahead of Election Day.
*Please be advised, to receive an accurate polling location, your address of residence must match the address on your voter registration form.

Nonprofit Vote Count Campaign:The National Council of Nonprofits, of which the Center is a member and partner, has teamed up with Independent Sector, Nonprofit VOTE, and United Way Worldwide in an initiative to encourage nonprofit staff, board members, and other volunteers to get registered and to vote. Called Nonprofit Votes Count, the nonpartisan campaign provides a wealth of resources that make it easy to ensure that all people connected with our nonprofits are registered and ready to vote this fall.