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  • Pat Libby

It’s time to have the talk with your Board

Updated: Nov 19, 2021

Why is it that politicians these days seem to be cowering to crazy people?

It’s because they’re not hearing enough from people like YOU who have GOOD ideas.

They’re not getting enough calls and meeting requests from people who represent charitable nonprofits (501 (c)(3)’s) that are on-the-ground meeting the needs of people across the country.

Unless your nonprofit is a rare bird, it’s likely that you don’t use your power to influence public policy.

But, think about it for a minute:

Government is always going to have much more money than the nonprofit sector does. If we want to create change in the world, we need to affect public policy.

The problem is that our organizations rarely do because we don’t have the support of our Boards (mostly because our Boards are terrified that if we lobby, we’ll lose our tax-exempt status which, thankfully, is a HIGHLY unlikely possibility).

So how do we start the discussion?

1. By focusing it on mission

What are the issues that directly affect the people we serve, our geographic or provider community, or our very organization that we can impact by lobbying?

For example, if we’re operating a food bank because we want to be sure that people have access to enough nutritious food then, in addition to doing what we do, we need to lobby to make sure that there is easy access to, lots of money, and generous benefits for people who need food stamps (SNAP), school and senior nutrition programs, and other types of things that feed people in our country.

2. By making sure we have relationships with every elected official who serves the district where we operate programs

There are lots of ways that elected officials can help our organizations. We need to get to know our city councilmembers, mayor, county supervisors, state legislators, and congresspeople so that they are aware of what we do for the people who live in the communities they were elected to represent.

It’s always important to introduce legislators to your work BEFORE you need to ask them for anything. Your nonprofit provides important services that they want to know about!

3. By becoming familiar with the simple rules for nonprofit lobbying

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: One of the biggest obstacles preventing nonprofits from lobbying is knowing the rules. Don’t take my word for it, it’s been documented in multiple academic studies.

There are several options for learning the rules. I suggest your Board and the staff learn them together. You can:

Sign up for a webinar with me on February 24 where I’ll walk you through what you need to know.

Click on my advocacy page and watch my lobbying video (it’s free!).

Tune into The Rules of the Game Podcast by the Bolder Advocacy arm of Alliance for Justice and also take advantage of the vast number of other free resources they offer).

4. By joining a nonprofit trade association

In California, CalNonprofits is the place to go for information about the sector overall, in Pennsylvania it’s PANO, and Minnesota has a great group too. I’m sure there’s an awesome network wherever you live and work.

Have the talk. Do the work. Let your voice be heard!


Pat Libby is a nonprofit consultant and author of The Lobbying Strategy Handbook: 10 Steps to Advancing Any Cause Effectively from Oxford University Press. She has served as an academic, senior executive, board member, and consultant to innumerable nonprofit organizations and foundations for more than three decades.

Get in touch with questions or to get more information!

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