For the past few years, BoardSource has used the Stand for Your Mission campaign to emphasize the critical role that boards play in standing up for the organizations they believe in through advocacy and creating public will for positive social change. This year, BoardSource has launched a $5,000 award to honor and celebrate a board that has fully embraced this responsibility.
With the nomination deadline for this year’s award approaching (Friday, January 26), BoardSource President and CEO Anne Wallestad shares the thinking behind the Stand for Your Mission campaign. Wallestad also points to some real-life examples of boards that are creating positive change through advocacy efforts.
JB: Why recognize and reward a board for setting sound expectations around an organization’s advocacy strategy?
AW: Well, at BoardSource, we think board engagement in advocacy is not just important, but essential. That’s why we launched the Stand for Your Mission campaign a few years ago, which is an ongoing effort to educate board members about the importance of engaging in public policy conversations that could positively – or negatively – impact their organization’s work. In fact, we think it’s so essential that we literally rewrote the book on board roles and responsibilities, The Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards, to include advocacy more explicitly.
The Stand for Your Mission Award is an opportunity for us to honor and celebrate a board that has fully embraced this responsibility, and to highlight the many ways that advocacy can help nonprofit organizations serve their missions.
It’s our hope that these stories will serve as an inspiration to organizations that are still on the bench as it relates to engaging in public policy and advocacy, and to encourage them to think about how that lack of engagement could be putting their organizations, missions, and the people they serve at risk.
JB: What’s BoardSource’s best advice to nonprofit boards who are trying to get more intentional about making advocacy central to their org’s mission for the first time?
AW: For those boards that are having a conversation about advocacy for the first time, or are very early in thinking through the advocacy role that their organization and board should play, we would encourage you to download the Stand for Your Mission campaign’s free discussion guide for boards, which helps boards think through how public policy is impacting their organization’s work and how engaging in advocacy could create stronger, more lasting impact.
For those that are ready to engage in advocacy, but not sure where to start, we’d offer the following advice:
- Leverage the Power of Coalitions: You don’t have to have your own policy shop to have a strong and strategic voice in public policy. For most mission areas, there are coalition groups that are helping to coordinate and activate advocacy efforts on behalf of their shared mission and goals. These groups help track public policy issues and develop advocacy strategies, which makes it possible for your organization to actively engage board members and others in supporting those efforts, even if you don’t have dedicated staff working on public policy issues.
- Add Public Policy to Your Board’s Meeting Agenda: Engaging in advocacy starts by cultivating a better understanding about how current – or potential – public policies are impacting your organization’s mission and the people you serve. Consider adding a regular agenda item to discuss public policy trends and updates, including how your organization is engaging in advocacy efforts and where board members can be most helpful. If you receive government funding for your work, be sure to discuss the ways in which policy changes could impact your funding, whether in the positive or negative.
- Educate Board Members About their Advocacy Role: Don’t assume that board members understand the unique value that they bring to advocacy efforts, or that they are comfortable in that role. Similar to the board’s role in fundraising, it’s important for board members to understand what a difference their leadership can make, and for staff to support their individual efforts. Talk with board members about how their influence and access can make a difference, and invite them to engage individually in ways that build on and expand their current level of comfort with advocacy and public policy.
- Embed Advocacy into the Way that the Board Works: Set the expectation that advocacy is an essential part of your board’s leadership role as a part of recruitment, orientation, and ongoing board development efforts. Consider incorporating advocacy into your board’s job description and its assessment of its own performance.
JB: What’s a great example of what good advocacy leadership from a nonprofit board looks like?
AW: There are so many great stories of how boards are creating positive change through advocacy! Here are a few:
- Board Leadership on Strategy
- As a part of a broader decision about the fundamental purpose of their organization, the board of the San Diego Youth Symphony identified the importance of music education in their local public system. They launched a programmatic and advocacy strategy that resulted in a change in public policy, and the reinstitution of music education across the Chula Vista School District.
- The board of Share Our Strength identified the opportunity for large-scale systemic change that would reduce – and ultimately eliminate – childhood hunger in the United States. They decided to overhaul their strategy and programmatic approach, prioritizing advocacy as a way to leverage existing public funds to build a state-by-state approach to coordinated meal programs for kids.
- Leveraging Board Influence through Advocacy
- Through strategic engagement of individual board members, The Massillon Museum in Massillon, Ohio has leveraged advocacy as a strategy for securing increased public support for their art and history museum and dramatically expanding their footprint in the community. Board members have actively engaged in conversations about public grant applications and are a part of ongoing ambassadorial efforts to familiarize and engage public officials in the work of the museum.
- Building an Advocacy Board
- As the result of focused effort and change over a period of years, The YWCA of Seattle | King | Snohomish County transformed its board into one that sees advocacy as one of its most important leadership roles. This didn’t happen overnight, and was the result of focused education and reflection on the purpose and mission of the organization, the role of public funding in its work, the impact of harmful (and helpful) policies on the women it serves, and case-making about the “value-add” of board engagement in advocacy.
Learn more about the Stand for Your Mission Awards including eligibility requirements at standforyourmission.org.