In Praise of Advocacy

Posted: June 30, 2016

images (1)Advocacy is trending – and that’s potentially game-changing for nonprofits. I know it predates this year’s presidential campaign, yet I think through the daily deluge of news coverage we’ve been feeling the impact of advocacy and of impassioned advocates. This is not meant to be a political blog, so my only point is the fresh evidence that advocacy matters and can have real power to propel a mission.

I’ve long believed that a crucial role of board members is to speak out for the mission of their nonprofit. Now we’re getting organized movement in support of board members as advocates-in-chief. If giving more emphasis to advocacy isn’t yet part of your organization’s grand plan, here’s perspective to consider for getting your board onboard.

Tapping All Through Everyday Advocacy

I love the phrase everyday advocacy. I think it speaks to what advocacy truly is – the daily work of everyone connected with a nonprofit. At heart, it’s the whole purpose of an organization – to advocate for those you seek to help, and in turn, to advocate for your organization’s capacity to fulfill its mission. If you think in those terms, then everything you do as an organization is about advocacy – every meeting, every program, every reach-out to donors and other funders. Making advocacy a common effort can also build a greater sense of unity within an organization.

To be clear, everyday advocacy is not my phrase. It’s comes from an awareness campaign launched by the National Council of Nonprofits and linked to a board-targeted initiative, Stand For Your Mission. As important as it is for everybody associated with a nonprofit to consider their advocacy role every day, it’s essential for board members. Returning to my initial premise, here’s my view on why.

Board Advocacy: Vital Messages and More

I don’t usually take a negative twist, but think about it. What message is sent when a board does not openly advocate for the nonprofit it’s helping to run? After all, there’s an expectation that this group knows and cares deeply about the organization, as well as being an accomplished group of smart and savvy individuals. Not every board member is a gifted speaker – but that’s only one way to advocate. There’s quiet advocacy too, the kind that’s about research and study, of looking ahead to the future and considering what new initiatives can head off the very problems your organization works to address.

Yes, as a long-time nonprofit board member, I know there’s lots to do. There are governing duties, which are key, and providing financial support. And then there’s watching out for the integrity and well-being of an organization, which for many boards is focusing on the financials. But this is where advocacy naturally comes in and can become a central duty. I’ve often encouraged boards to include a “mission moment” in every board meeting – to assess how the organization is fulfilling its mission and brainstorm on how to do it better.

As a board member, I practice what I recommend to others. I’ve represented my organization, Astor Services for Children and Families, at meetings. I know firsthand that advocacy work often requires time beyond board sessions. But, to repeat, there are many ways to advocate – including through another of my soapbox stands, board member activity on social media. Stay tuned for more from me on this topic.

Looking for help with board development, including advocacy? Let’s talk.