Engage, Advocate, Advance: A Challenge
I am a bonafide news junkie. CNN and coffee in the morning, NPR during the commute, and local news at night. Listening to the economic reports or Marketplace these days is encouraging as the stock market continues to hang in there, housing prices inch up, and even job reports, though mixed, are far from the dismal free fall experienced during the depth of the recession.
But, as the 2013 Georgia legislative session came to an end, and I reviewed the state’s budget, [I was] less optimistic. We continue to cut, even though social and child service caseloads remain historically high; the state’s approach to healthcare reform is still in flux; our education system is stressed; and rural communities continue to lose hospitals, nursing home care, and economic development funds.
I want to issue a challenge to the nonprofit leaders, board members, and volunteers reading this issue. But first, some context.
In Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville pointed out that the key to making American democracy work is our willingness to create and engage with a variety of civic associations. Engagement brings citizens into close contact with the issues of the day, giving them more context regarding policy decisions. As they share those newly discovered facts, figures, and perceptions, they empower other citizens to organize and solve problems, influence opinion, and support solutions.
As leaders, we have a choice. We can either do our best to position ourselves as influencers, or we can stand by and watch what happens to our organizations, our issues, and our clients on the evening news.
But what about us? When it comes to engagement, what role does a nonprofit professional or volunteer play?
Our role must be more expansive than the provision of direct services: we should be looking for opportunities to engage others in our work and encourage them to advocate for the larger issues impacting it.
To help get us there, I offer three specific challenges:
1. Get active in education and advocacy around your issue.
It won’t affect your tax status, and it is something that all responsible, leading organizations must do to fully achieve their missions.
2. Support the issues of other nonprofits.
In 2012, the seven members of the Georgia Food Bank Association (GFBA) fought hard for the reinstatement of three expired sales and use tax exemptions that, for years, had helped charity groups across the state purchase food. That effort failed, the exemptions remained dormant, and the state’s hungry lost out on some 800,000 meals. In February 2013, the GFBA started the push again, this time reaching out to the entire cause community for support. Their coalition of 2,300 community-based organizations ensured that the bill passed both houses, with overwhelming majorities. Though Gov. Deal would ultimately veto it, the vote was a clear victory for the sector and a shining example of what we can accomplish when we rally together for a common purpose. Because all of our issues are connected, and because our voices are small in isolation, we must step up to help one another.
3. Seek out and lobby for appointments to the commissions, councils, and task forces making recommendations about policy and budgetary issues
This year boasts numerous opportunities, including a council overseeing the Georgia Council for the Arts, an Alzheimer’s Task Force, an 18-member Joint Study Committee on Medicaid Reform, and a Joint Study Committee on Mental Health Access, among others. These appointments will be made rapidly. Consider how powerful a nonprofit voice could be on one of these influential bodies—or as an elected official.
GCN is our state’s largest nonprofit membership organization, and we advocate for the issues that are important to the sector. Your voice matters. Adding and amplifying it with your peers, to the benefit of the sector in Georgia and in national conversations, is a major benefit and purpose of membership in the Center. As leaders, we have a choice. We can either do our best to position ourselves as influencers, or we can stand by and watch what happens to our organizations, our issues, and our clients on the evening news. We urge you to step up to advocacy.
Karen Beavor is President and CEO at the Georgia Center for Nonprofits.
This opinion piece was previously published in the Summer 2013 edition of Georgia Nonprofit NOW.