July 24, 2018

pov: Nonprofits Must Engage in Advocacy

NonprofitEveryday Advocacy means just that – Advocacy yesterday, today and tomorrow – It also means casting your ballot in every election that comes to your district. Because I receive so many questions about what we can do as nonprofit organizations, I’d like to talk about some of the ways nonprofits can engage in advocacy, the reasons behind the ‘why’, and some things that are on the table right now on the national stage.


Nonprofit organizations can and should engage in advocacy. The bedrock of our existence as organizations begins and ends with the missions of our organizations. In UNA’s case our mission is to unify, strengthen, and elevate nonprofits in Utah – so it is my responsibility to advocate for smart policy as it relates to nonprofit organizations and the employees who work in the sector. If your mission is tied to youth education or the environment or healthcare likely you’re following policy – both federal and state – that fits within that area. As ambassadors of our organizations we can and should call our elected officials and talk to them about our mission and the work we do. We can talk to them about legislation they are supporting (or proposing) and we can tell them how that legislation will impact our mission. We can even ask them to vote a certain way and to modify the language of a particular policy or law. What we are not allowed to do is campaign for a political party, endorse political candidates, or in any way favor one over the other. A classic example is that if you are interested in hosting a forum with elected officials (or candidates) you have to ensure that your panel or debate is balanced and has equal representation.

As organization leaders, if we fail to engage with lawmakers we put our organizations at risk when regulations or policies are introduced. Especially if we can’t articulate the impact a piece of legislation or policy would have on the communities we serve and the missions of our organizations.

Presently at the federal level there are several issues UNA is watching, advocating on, and are concerned about:
• The taxation of nonprofits as it relates to transportation benefits and trade associations (Unrelated Business Income Tax) specifically newly proposed Sections 512(a)(6) & (7). If this proceeds without rules and guidance nonprofits (all of us) are liable to be taxed at 21%.
• The politicization of nonprofit organizations with the threat of the repealing the Johnson Amendment (nonprofit nonpartisanship). If weakened or repealed, our board meetings, the mission of our organizations and the people we serve will be exposed to politicking when affiliating with our mission driven organizations. This means nonprofit organizations could be pressured to endorse a candidate or political party (thus veering from mission) in exchange for a large gift.
• Assuring a complete and accurate count for the 2020 Census. The likely addition of the citizenship question combined with an all-digital collection are expected to lower participation rates in the 2020 Census. If some are afraid to answer whether or not they are a citizen (for fear of deportation) and if some are not able to answer because they lack access to technology, then we will not have a fair an accurate count of all people living in our communities. This matters because future funding to our infrastructure and funding to the social sector depends on a fair and accurate count of the people living in our communities. The monetary translation is less funding for nonprofits for a period of at least 10 years.
• The preservation of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness which allows nonprofit professionals (among others like government employees) to have their student loan debt forgiven AFTER they have worked at a 501(c)3 and completed 120 full, on-time monthly loan payments. The Prosper Act has language which calls for the elimination of this benefit. If included in the final language and approved, this would impact all nonprofit employees (and others) currently enrolled in the program.

These are the items that Team UNA is focused on, in service to you and the organizations you lead, work at, attended, and volunteer with. In truth I bring them up because I believe that it’s important for everyone to know that when it comes to the nuts and bolts of how we do the ‘why’ of our work we have a proper understanding of the ramifications of policy implementation and the role we can play in their creation.

The call to action here is both simple and complex, because as I mentioned – this is everyday advocacy. Get to know your elected officials. This includes state and federal lawmakers, municipal leaders, the Auditor, the Treasurer, and more! Email them, call them, tweet them, engage with them in whatever way makes sense for you. Invite them to get to know your organization and the people you serve. Talk to them about why it matters to do the work that you do. Thank them for voting in a way that supports your work. Let them know when you are dissatisfied with a stance they have taken and provide alternatives that they may not have thought about. They are elected to serve us – the people. And lastly if you are not registered to vote (and you are eligible) – it’s time. Take care of that right here. Note: All links are for Utah residents. A search online should assist you in finding your local representatives and lawmakers.