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Non-Profit Advocacy: Impacting Public Policy – Inside Scoop

(Jan. 23, 2017) Catherine Read speaks with three Northern Virginia non-profit leaders about the importance of advocacy work to the mission of non-profits focused on human services. In the first segment she is joined by Mary Agee, the former President & CEO of Northern Virginia Family Service (NVFS) which grew substantially in the 40 years she was there. Mary discusses the importance of advocacy and speaks to a widely held misconception that 501(c)3 organizations are prohibited from this activity because it is “lobbying.” Advocacy at its core is an educational activity designed to inform policy makers from town councils to Capitol Hill. Without the work of non-profits who are on the front lines, there is often little awareness of complex issues that require regulation or resources from the government.

Virginia Housing AllianceIn the second segment, Lisa Whetzel, Executive Director of Britepaths (formerly Our Daily Bread, Inc. – Fairfax) talks about advocacy as one of six identified pillars of change in the book Forces for Good. Britepaths only recently adopted an “advocacy policy” and the journey of their board of directors to address advocacy after 30 years of direct service delivery is instructive. Lisa explains that in the face of disappearing housing where our clients live in Fairfax City, she felt that Britepaths must take a stand in advocating for affordable housing. In focusing on which issues are support the core mission of the organization, Britepaths is able to join forces with other groups such as VOICE and the Virginia Housing Alliance to make a real impact on policy makers from Fairfax City to Richmond Virginia.

In the third segment, Kerrie Wilson, CEO of Cornerstones (formerly Reston Interfaith) talks about coming from a position where she worked in government relations for a national organization to taking the helm of a regionally based non-profit in 2001. Kerri talks about the efforts to build coalitions around issues like affordable housing which impact low income working families here in Northern Virginia and how their organization has evolved over their four decades of serving the Reston area.

Mary Agee Inside ScoopThe final segment with Mary Agee addresses the importance of cultivating relationships over the long term with elected leaders. She also discusses the importance of having human services organizations include advocacy as a major pillar of their efforts and how boards need to take a leadership role in shaping an advocacy policy. There is also discussion about how to find people in our communities who have the skills, the time and the motivation to help solve some of the many problems people in our community face. How does need connect with resources and what can we do to be more efficient in finding volunteers, supporters and advocates?

This show aired as the 2017 Legislative Session in the Commonwealth of Virginia was just underway. For 45 days, Richmond, Virginia, is the destination for people from around the state doing advocacy work around specific issues related to human services. This process is repeated every year where thousands of proposed bills are introduced and the majority of them don’t ever make it to the Governor’s desk. Going forward, it is imperative for non-profits to focus energy and resources on moving the needle forward on policies that improve the quality of life for Virginians in every community.

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