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

Advocacy in a Divided America – What is Our Role?

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.

Previous blogs:

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, "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.