Recently, in a conversation with a community banking representative about the business of nonprofit agencies and civic engagement, she became quickly confused by my use of two terms.

Advocacy was one of them. Governance the other. But she was a banker and couldn’t be expected to know what these terms were, unless she understood nonprofits.

For those folks who are involved in their communities, many of us have learned the hard way about the importance of advocacy and that it is an ongoing educational process.

Typically, advocacy efforts range from grass-roots educational components to full blown legislative action taking place with the presentation of specific bills to effect a change in society.

Each year, around the time of local, state and federal budget hearings, advocacy efforts come into full swing. But they may be predicated by the removal of a bus route, for example, that brings low-income workers to a specific job site.

So how do you being to engage constituents in advocacy efforts? Should you become more involved in advocacy? Are you presently involved?

Let’s start with a basic quiz. On a scale from one to twelve, rate your ability (do you have the knowledge, skills, experience and resources) to accomplish these tasks. 0 = none; 12, means you’ve got all you need and you need no more.

Then, rate the challenge or the difficulty to accomplish the task. 0 = none; 12, means it’s impossible.
1. Understanding the word advocacy.
2. Realizing the importance of advocacy for my “community” and for our board of
3. Developing an advocacy plan.
4. Meeting face-to-face with legislators in your neighborhood.
5. Participating regularly in the organization’s programs on advocacy.
6. Listening actively to advocacy reports at the board meetings.
7. Taking action on advocacy reports at the board meetings.
8. Initiating meetings with local legislators.
9. Participating regularly in concerted efforts on behalf of your constituency.
10. Engaging in wider community-wide advocacy activities. (such as writing a letter to the editor or going en masse to Harrisburg or Washington.)

Want a personal interpretation or how you could be engaging your board or your constituents in this critical component of your nonprofit activities, contact me directly.

Any organization that receives tax payers dollars or that has received the public trust to collect money for charitable purposes should know what advocacy stands for with their constituents.

It is finding your voice and supporting others in finding their voices, that policies being made affect them in a manner that is fair, appropriate and acceptable or it isn’t fair, appropriate or acceptable. This first part is important, because the time to speak is not when you are behind a shotgun.

Just as your organization should be developing relationships with your donors, your funders, and other supporters, if you are not having conversations with your legislators on a regular basis, you may have new laws introduced that will seriously affect your bottom line.

You, your board members and/or constituents should be prepared with exactly how those conversations come about. Who are your legislators? What do you want to say to them? How will you develop a specific plan of action BEFORE pending legislation affects your bottom line?

Many smaller agencies are overwrought with their own concerns and depend on coalitions to bolster up their numbers and present more of an impact.

One such organization, which is national, but has a state and regional presence, is Americans for the Arts.( ) During a recent three day conference, artists, art lovers and employees of arts’ organizations spent three days learning, planning and meeting with their legislators. There was a strong contingent from the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance. (

A clear story about how many jobs were in the arts (6.4 million nationwide) and the economic impact of cultural tourism and arts programming drove home the importance of this industry.

Further, during hearings with the Senate Interior Appropriations Sub-committee, key artists and arts developers testified about how the arts made a difference in their lives and continue to bring a necessary balance to the quality of life in America.

From the Philadelphia area, testimony was directly provided by Jeremy Nowak, president of the Reinvestment Fund and member of the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Board. He was supported by Josh Groban, Linda Ronstadt and Wynton Marsalis.
Additional representatives met with many, if not all of the federal elected officials. The efforts were well received at a national level and the arts have received a favorable standing in the President’s proposed budget.

State and local efforts continue to bring favorable status for funding in the arts. Your cause, your mission, the community passion that drives you and also receive recognition and priority notice, if you alert your legislators that you are around, you are alive, your organization is important.

It starts small. It starts with one voice. It starts with you.

Author's Bio: 

Kayte Connelly, CCP is a leadership coach and an Organizational Development Consultant.She is a certified ChangeWorks Practitioner and Standards for Excellence Approved Consultant.Connelly supports individuals and organizations by processing solutions for personal, professional and organizational goals by restoring control to the areas in which they are experiencing extreme tension.

In addition to leadership coaching, she offers a variety of services including strategic planning, governance, association management and fundraising. She resides in West Chester, PA with her husband Marc Riddell CPA, CVA.

Contact her at or 484.769.2327. Additional information can be found at and