Nonprofits act as connectors of the public to governments and decision makers. They play a vital role in both organizing civic action and educating on the democratic process due to expertise, experience, and knowledge about issues from an intimate perspective.
What is advocacy?
Advocacy is an activity performed by an individual or group that aims to influence decisions within political, economic, and social systems and institutions. Nonprofits can turn to advocacy work when seeking to achieve systems-level change that could not be accomplished through service delivery alone.
Advocating for policy change is a long game. It is an ongoing process that can take years to be realized. Consistent, timely and achievable milestones will keep your work on track and provide tangible analytics throughout the process.
When nonprofits come together to “think like a sector,” they can avoid working in silos and capitalize on the benefits of a network approach to achieve greater impact.
Through advocacy, nonprofits can:
- move the needle on long-standing social policy challenges.
- bring vulnerable voices to the policy table
- attract the attention of donors, volunteers, leaders, media, etc. to increase awareness.
- double, triple, or quadruple impact by building an alliance
While it’s important to capitalize on election periods, it is more important to build relationships with key stakeholders and policy makers year round. As governments change and public attention wanes, you may see a loss of public support and setbacks to your advocacy efforts. Do not let these realities discourage you as these ebbs and flows are a natural part of democracy and reinforce why nonprofits must continue advocacy beyond election periods.
The nonprofit sector must advocate for the communities that it serves as well as for the sector
Nonprofits engaging in advocacy work brings benefits to communities at large and the organization itself through opportunities to attract greater attention and broader impact.
Choosing to make your policy priorities public should be approached in a coordinated and strategic manner.
- Focus on your goals and choose your tactics
- Bring people along with you
- Know the landscape
- Craft your communications
To reach your organization’s goals, remain adaptive and open to trying different approaches. Consider what you are comfortable compromising and which issues you will advocate for at all costs. Advocacy is often about dialogue and negotiation, and it can be helpful to identify a “fall back” position that will allow you to still achieve an acceptable outcome, even if it’s not perfect.
Monitoring and evaluating throughout your advocacy efforts will determine what is working well and what is not, allowing you to make adjustments to keep your objectives on track. An effective evaluation focuses on the overall achievements of the project, and also measures the intended or unintended outcomes by proving and improving. Proving the success of your advocacy efforts and improving in areas that didn’t yield desired outcomes.
Advocacy success doesn’t necessarily mean that your ultimate goal is realized - you can, and should also celebrate small victories on the journey. It should not be treated as an end destination but as a continued journey to collective success of all nonprofit organizations.
Learn more about the impact of advocacy
Everyday Advocacy Guide
The Everyday Advocacy Guide for Nonprofits is a practical guide for nonprofits wishing to engage in advocacy. This Guide is intended to help inform a range of nonprofit stakeholders, including executive directors, staff, board members, and volunteers, about the context, rules, and strategies that can be used to support nonprofit contributions to public policy dialogue and development. Highlights of this guide can also be found in Rules of Engagement, Tell Your Stories, and Government Relations
Nonprofits at 2:00
Engaging in advocacy is an opportunity for nonprofits to share their priorities with the public, represent communities, advance policies, and promote investment into meaningful objectives. At this Nonprofits at 2:00 event, CCVO convened a panel of some of Calgary's and Canada's leading nonprofit advocates to discuss their advocacy journeys – what worked, what didn't work, and how they shaped their strategies in response. Learn about advocating during an election cycle, and how your nonprofit can advocate for the issues that matter most.
Advocacy is a powerful catalyst for change. It can improve the laws, policies, and systems that impact entire communities. And it’s not as difficult as you might think. See how others have successfully used advocacy to achieve their goals through these stories from Bolder Advocacy.