By: Kiran Gurm and Kirsten Boda
In the nonprofit sector, the terms advocacy and lobbying are often interpreted synonymously due to potential overlap and lack of understanding, creating uncertainty for both charities and nonprofits alike. However, because organizations inherently act as advocates for the individuals, families, and communities they support, as well as the issues they exist to address, advocacy is central to who they are. Thus, whether they realize it or not, most organizations are already engaged in some form of advocacy. This blog provides an overview of lobbying versus advocacy in the context of Alberta to support organizations to engage openly and actively in advocacy.
Confusion around lobbying and advocacy arises due to fear over engaging in the political process, uncertainty in funding relationships, and the desire for an organization to keep government partners ‘on their good side’. We often hear from those working in the sector that once the word advocacy enters into a mission statement, theory of change, or organizational strategy alarm bells will sound with the potential for negative implications down the road. This blog, by Alexa Briggs of CCVO and Liz Sutherland of ONN, discusses the impact of regulations and policies that create an advocacy chill among nonprofits.
It is important for organizations to know that advocacy is a broad term that is not clearly defined. There are a host of activities that are considered advocacy but not lobbying. For example, preparing and submitting a bid or grant application can be considered advocacy. Almost all nonprofits and charities engage in advocacy daily, as they promote awareness of a cause or the ability to address issues and change public opinions or perceptions. We are all change-makers, and therefore advocacy is part of the DNA of who we are and what we do. Specifically for registered charities, according to the Canada Revenue Agency, as long as an organization’s advocacy activities further their charitable purpose, there is no limit on their activities. This advocacy spectrum created by the Ontario Nonprofit Network provides a useful overview of different advocacy activities ranging from general advocacy such as joining a coalition or network to direct lobbying such as organizing a lobbying day. Further, CCVO has created an Everyday Advocacy Guide for nonprofits.
Simply put, advocacy is an umbrella under which lobbying falls. This means that while not all advocacy is lobbying, all lobbying is advocacy. Lobbying entails complex laws and regulation that differs from one jurisdiction to the next, is highly regulated by legislation, and guided by a code of conduct. Applying for a grant becomes lobbying if an organization were to meet with a public office holder outside the application process in an attempt to influence their decision. It is also important to note that your organization can communicate with a public officer holder about your organization, however, the communication transitions into lobbying once there is an official “ask” being made.