Advocacy and the Nonprofit Sector

FNA believes that all 501(c)(3) charitable organizations not only have a right to advocate for their mission, but a responsibility.  Why?

Advocacy is legal, and needed.

Advocacy is an important part of the democratic process.  The first amendment grants citizens the right to speak freely and to petition the government to redress grievances.  Nonprofits have the right – and the duty – to advocate on behalf of causes, constituents, and communities.

Advocacy can accomplish aims that direct services alone cannot.

Used effectively, advocacy can bring attention to legislative gaps, address needed reforms, preserve nonprofit resources, and more.

What is advocacy?

Advocacy encompasses a wide range of activities designed to influence public opinion and policy.

Examples include:

  • Public education,
  • Grassroots organizing,
  • Nonpartisan voter engagement,
  • Litigation,
  • Coalition building, and
  • Lobbying.

Do you know your board's role in advocacy? Click here to learn more.

What Is lobbying?

Lobbying is a form of advocacy that attempts to influence specific legislation.  Nonprofits can, and often should, lobby at all levels of government.  Lobbying by 501(c)3 organizations is supported by the federal government through the 1976 Lobby Law and 1990 IRS regulations.

There are two forms of lobbying:

  • Direct lobbying: Communicating your position on specific legislation to a legislator or government employee who may help develop the legislation, or urging your members to do so.
  • Grassroots lobbying: Communicating your position on specific legislation to the general public, and encouraging them to contact representatives in support of or opposition to that legislation.  Grassroots lobbying only occurs when an organization reaches beyond its members to mobilize the public.

For more information on advocacy, lobbying, and how to do it legally and effectively, register for an upcoming Advocacy 101 webinar.