• Pat Libby

Why Nonprofits Should Embrace the L Word



When it comes to lobbying, nonprofits fall into two categories: Those that do and those that don’t.

The reasons folks give for not lobbying could fill a super-sized bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

And while many are valid, the argument that “it doesn’t fit within our mission,” is just ridiculous because laws are passed every day that have enormous consequences on the people we serve and our own organizations.

I think the real reason nonprofits steer clear of lobbying is because the word has a cringeworthy connotation when in reality, the purpose of lobbying is to create or change a law that will have a positive impact.

When nonprofits lobby, it’s the opposite of cringeworthy: Lobbying is noble.


We’ve all seen the incredibly rapid progress that the Black Lives Matter Movement has made this year alone in passing laws all over the country that outlaw the use of chokeholds, no-knock warrants, and mandate other common-sense protection for citizens – including shifting serious money from police departments to nonprofits (and BLM had a darn impressive track record before 2020 too).

But sometimes the need to make or change a law is staring our nonprofit in the face and we hesitate to do something about it because we don’t know how.

Take for example, the need to amend a California bill that will force 57% of all performing arts businesses to close or “cease certain programs”!

This well-intentioned legislation, AB5, was meant to protect workers by preventing businesses from mis-categorizing employees as independent contractors to avoid paying them benefits.

In the process though, performing artists of all type were swept up in mayhem since their work is NOT “free from the control and direction of the hiring entity in connection with the performance of the work.”

Because penalties for violating the law run $5,000 to $25,000 PER incident, the situation has theaters ballets, symphonies, and all kinds of musical performance groups running scared.

And that was well before Covid-19 shutdown most of their plans for the season.

Yet, most of the theaters I’ve spoken to recently about this issue are acting like deers caught in headlights.[1]

Here are two things I know to be true about lobbying:

  1. It’s not hard to do. In fact, it’s a lot easier than you might think and,

  2. It doesn’t require a ridiculous amount of resources.

I’ve developed a simple 10-step model for lobbying that anyone can use to pass a bill. Even YOU.

If you read my previous blog, you know the second edition of my Lobbying Strategy Handbook, will hit bookstores in November.

Spoiler alert: Oxford University Press is publishing an edition of the book next year that is designed specifically for real people (not students) who want to learn how to pass laws.

Whatever you do, get engaged.

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Pat Libby is a nonprofit consultant and author of The Lobbying Strategy Handbook: 10 Steps to Advancing Any Cause Effectively, forthcoming from Oxford University Press. She has served as an academic, senior executive, board member, and consultant to innumerable nonprofit organizations and foundations since 1978.

Get in touch with questions or to get more information!

[1] Theater Bay Area is not one of them – they are fighting for changes to the law.