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July 6, 2020
 
Tools and Techniques for Effective Nonprofit Lobbying & Advocacy
Book - Lobbying and Advocacy Handbook
Nonprofits embody the activist role of citizens enshrined in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and therefore, it can be argued, every nonprofit should have a public policy agenda. The Lobbying and Advocacy Handbook for Nonprofits Organizations provides step-by-step guidance on how to make that happen.

Written by Marcia Avner, who has a long history of advocacy work, including a stint as public policy director at the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, this well-written volume is intended to help organizations, large and small, whether they have deep lobbying experience or are new to the arena, lobby at the state level.

Her argument for lobbying is straightforward. “Without the experience and expertise of nonprofits, the public debate will never be fully informed. And without nonprofits doing direct and grassroots lobbying, many people will never make their voices heard in the centers of power in this country.”

Most importantly, she writes, “Nonprofit organizations can and should lobby. It isn’t difficult. It isn’t mysterious. It isn’t expensive. And it is a proper role for nonprofits.”

(She clarifies the difference between lobbying and advocacy: Advocacy promotes a cause and may or may not include a call for action, while lobbying, a specific form of advocacy, asks a decision maker to vote “for” or “against” something. Both are distinct from political action—efforts to elect person or party—which is off limits to nonprofits.)

Avner educates the reader on a comprehensive set of actions ”“ from assessing the benefits of lobbying and incorporating strategic lobbying efforts into your organizational culture and work plan to developing skills, building and mobilizing support, and using the media to build awareness of and support for your mission.

Novice and veteran lobbyists will find the 17 worksheet templates provided in the appendix, some of which Avner uses in completed form to convey important points, especially helpful when planning their campaigns.

While most of this 268-page book is devoted to developing and then implementing advocacy and lobbying plans, the reader is also guided through an analysis process to sustain those efforts, which underscores the point that effective advocacy is an ongoing process of planning, engagement, and promotion to expand a base of support.

The book also devotes a chapter to the law as it applies to 501(c)(3) organizations. This is particularly important, because, as Avner writes, “too often, board members...believe that, when nonprofits lobby, they place their tax-exempt status at risk,” adding, “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Nonprofits typically have a lot on their plate and constantly strive to enhance their capacity to better fulfill their mission. This book ably supports their cause, particularly smaller organizations with more limited resources, by providing the basic tools and techniques to plan and execute short-term and long-term policy programs.

The Lobbying and Advocacy Handbook for Nonprofits Organizations is available from Turner Publishing Company.

Reviewed by Peter Lowy

February 2014
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