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  • Pat Libby

Advocacy = Mission: Learn how to move the needle

I’ve worked in the nonprofit sector for decades.

And if I live to be 100, one thing that I’ll never understand is why nonprofit leaders – people who care so passionately about making an impact on the world through art, science, education, and on humanity in general – tend to be alienated by the idea of actively advocating for change.

Simple math will tell you that no matter how much money and resources are held by charities, that government will always have MUCH more. The trick is getting government to set policies and allocate resources in ways that align with the missions of our organizations.

I’ll give you an example that is both simple and powerful.

Recently, Serving Seniors—a San Diego-based organization that provides an amazing array of services including nutritious meals, housing, health care, and social services to low-income seniors—successfully lobbied for the passage of a game-changing county-wide pilot program that will provide seniors who are at-risk of becoming homeless with a $500 rental subsidy.

The county program is based on a survey conducted by Serving Seniors that found some seniors were paying more than half their income on rent. A shallow subsidy is a logical way to prevent more seniors from becoming homeless at a time when one in four homeless people in the area are over age 55, and 43% are first time homeless.

Now, Serving Seniors could have said, “We don’t get involved in lobbying – we just provide direct services.” BUT they understood that they could serve their mission more fully by engaging in advocacy.

There are a million and one reasons why nonprofit charities – 501 (c) (3) corporations – don’t lobby and they mostly have to do with nonprofit leaders being ignorant of the law, wrongly thinking it’s expensive, and not knowing how to lobby effectively.

The fact is: lobbying is one of the MOST important ways nonprofits can empower our communities.

My motto is: If I can explain it, you can do it.

In fact, I created a simple 10 step lobbying model that even a poodle could use it to pass a law (well, maybe not a poodle in actuality but you certainly could).

And, speaking of mission, I’m on a mission to share it with every good-hearted human being in America who wants to move the needle.

If you want to learn more, you can:

The world needs you!

As the Talmudic sage, Rabbi Tarfon, once wrote: “You are not required to finish your work, yet neither are you permitted to desist from it.”

If we all work together, we can make the change we want to see.



Pat Libby is a change management consultant working principally with nonprofit corporations. She is author of The Empowered Citizens Guide: 10 Steps to Passing a Law that Matters to You, Oxford University Press, The Lobbying Strategy Handbook, second edition, Oxford University Press, and Cases in Nonprofit Management, SAGE. She has served as an academic, senior executive, board member, and consultant to innumerable nonprofit organizations and foundations for more than three decades.

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