Nonprofit Network Blog

4 Questions That Tell You When to Speak Up

Wednesday, June 03, 2020 9:39 AM | Regina Pinney (Administrator)

Regina Pinney
Executive Director

Should you jump in or stay in the bleachers?
(updated from 4.5.17)

I want to talk about how, when, and why the leadership of your nonprofit may choose to advocate in this contentious political climate.

As an executive director myself, I have been thinking long and hard about how to lead and represent the organization I serve when it comes to navigating advocacy and taking stances on legislative and social issues. 

During a strategic planning session last summer, Nonprofit Network's board had determined that in order to be sustainable, we must be relevant. Therefore, we actively seek to join tables where the conversation is about helping people, organizations, and communities to think differently about their infrastructure—to think differently about their systems and their processes. If we are that good—good enough to be invited to those tables—we will be a sustainable organization.

Our ultimate goal is to influence community solutions through our programming and services using best practices and research.

Your organization might have a similar goal, to influence the decisions of your clients and your community using your mission.

Last summer, this goal had felt pretty safe. Yes, it is a big, hairy, audacious goal, but safe enough. Recent events at local, state, and national levels have caused our board to revisit this word: influence. We recently checked in with each other and asked “Did we really mean it – and if we did, what now?”

Our official diversity and inclusion statement reads as follows:
Nonprofit Network strives to be a model of inclusion. We engage all people with dignity and respect. We believe that bringing diverse individuals together is essential to effectively address the issues that face current and prospective partners.

But in today’s divided and often cruel political climate, the work around diversity can create division, inclusion can create exclusion, and seeking equity for all somehow means someone else loses. Tensions are high, to say the least.

Nonprofit Network strongly believes in the practice of having policies and procedures in place before you need them. So if we know that if we are going to be relevant and influence community solutions, we first need to make some decisions about when, why, and how we decide to speak up.

We drafted a series of questions to guide that decision and I am sharing it with you here. Share this with your board and staff so you can discuss how to customize it to fit within your organization.

1)   Is there a need?

  • What is the scope and size of the issue? 
  • Are we advocating for those that cannot speak for themselves?
  • Are we speaking for those whose voices are not being heard?
  • Are we speaking for those that can’t “afford” to speak up?
If the answer to the above is yes, then proceed to the next question.

2)   Is it appropriate and relevant to the organization?

  • Does the topic fit our mission and values?
  • Is it appropriate for us to add our voice?
  • Are we opposing? Supporting? Educating?
If the answer to the above is yes, then proceed to the next question.

3)   What are the risks?

  • Can the organization be hurt by taking a public stance? 
  • If we can be hurt, can we sustain the risk?
  • Is any potential risk direct or indirect? (would we know if a donor stopped giving because we added our voice?)
If the risks are minimal or can be sustained, then proceed to the next question.

4)   How will we influence?

  • Programming, curriculum, best practices
  • Education
  • Leadership (modeling best practices, setting an example)
  • Getting involved
  • Blogging, using our social media
  • Contributing resources
  • Advocacy – taking a position and influencing those with power to take a direction
  • Ask our members/stakeholders/donors, staff, board and volunteers to act

You might see Nonprofit Network jumping in the conversations that affect the nonprofit ecosystem. Know that when you see us at the table and hear our voice, we have run the decision through the questions above. These four questions will allow us to act with intention and proceed with a full understanding of our role and the potential results of our decision to influence.

Remember! Advocacy is not political activity. 501(c)3 nonprofits cannot endorse political candidates or contribute to political campaigns. This rule is part of the Johnson Amendment, and it helps nonprofits maintain their integrity as nonpartisan entities. You can however, support legislative bills, mileages, and advocate for your mission.  

Want to share this with your organization and build your own decision tree?  Email to let us know and we'll send you an electronic copy of the four questions to share with your stakeholders. No strings attached...

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Jackson, MI 49202
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