During the last week and a half, I’ve spoken up in Pennsylvania (with members of the PA Bar) and, most recently, down in Raleigh, NC with CPAs who work at, or who work with, local nonprofits. In both cases, I was speaking with the very folks who can either guide nonprofit organizations down the road that leads to a strong, politically relevant, economically viable sector, or….they can advise (as many too often do) that groups should purposely avoid advocacy for fear of jeopardizing their nonprofit status.
When we first launched DC Central Kitchen, there was a deeply entrenched urban myth in America that it was illegal for restaurants or hotels or caterers to donate food to groups like DCCK. People would say to me all the time…”Oh man, I love what you are doing, but we just can’t donate our food—the health department won’t allow it.”
In reality—not only was it legal…there were actually laws in place that facilitated the donation of food!!!!
The same is true with nonprofits being politically engaged. Like alligators in the sewers, the notion that nonprofits are not allowed to be politically engaged is another of those impossible-to-kill urban myths. The part that makes this myth so tough to beat is that the folks who often do the most to warn groups away from advocacy are lawyers or CPA’s…the very folks who should be well versed in what legally constitutes allowed or un-allowed behavior.
I took that message to heart as I met with each group—really trying my best to open a new dialogue about the need for groups to step into the fray, unafraid. This transition needs to happen in the Board Room of every organization…starting with yours.
Seriously—every nonprofit board should meet to discuss advocacy and whether they will or won’t step forward to partner with V3 or any other group that is trying to get a richer, more compelling dialogue going about what comes next. But they shouldn’t have the dialogue in a vacuum—they need rock solid advice, so they truly understand how many options that they have to consider. They also need to totally get what’s going to be coming down that road if they don’t talk about this now.
Let’s riff on that for a spell.
If you are a lawyer or a CPA, and you work for nonprofits, then your very livelihood depends on it. Without a big leap forward, too many groups will begin to fall by the wayside for lack of funds…and with them will go your paycheck—it’s that simple.
If you are on a Board, and you don’t insist on an open dialogue about the group’s advocacy options within the next 10 months, then you are being totally negligent about your job.
If you are a Board Chair…and you don’t (or won’t) set this discussion on the docket within the next 10 months…then you need to step down, because you are threatening the future of not only the group you lead, but the community in which your work.
This is real…it’s here and now. Just as V3 aims to be involved in every election in America—we are also going to advocate that EVERY nonprofit Board of Directors have a meeting dedicated to openly discussing adding new policies or removing old barriers so that the group they lead can become politically involved.
And…if you want to know what you can or cannot do, then please check out the info over at the Center for Lobbying in the Public Interest (www.clpi.org). I just met with their brand new ED, Larry Ottinger and we BOTH agree that this is one of the sectors biggest imperatives. Make it happen for your group TODAY.