Relentless Advocacy and the Lessons Along the Way

Next week, we will gather our community together again for another Upswell Pop-Up — this time on the concept of relentless advocacy toward our pursuit of a healthy and just sector and nation. We have a compelling set of speakers with a diverse set of experiences and perspectives. Our aim, of course, is to make the program as engaging and powerful as possible. But reality is advocacy work. The day-in-day-out drumbeat of policy formulation, strategy, and mobilization to push and pull people toward positive systems change is often filled with small, seemingly inconsequential victories that lead to the big wins.

When people think of the most powerful examples of advocacy in our sector, iconic moments such as the 1963 March on Washington or the “die-ins” during the height of the AIDS epidemic come to mind, but advocacy is also the little steps you take every day as leaders to ensure your issues and your communities are in the front and center in the minds of policymakers and influencers.

Before leading Independent Sector, I was the president and CEO of IS member, Communities In Schools, an organization that developed and scaled an evidence-based intervention and prevention model that mitigates the effects of poverty for K-12 students. At CIS, it took us eight years of relentless advocacy to get integrated student support included in the 2015 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. During those years, we had many wins and some losses. Some policymakers became champions and others refused to move because they required more data and needed to hear from key stakeholders. One key learning for me during that time was that enlightened and supportive Boards of Directors, both at the national office and across CIS’s network, were absolutely critical to our success. The importance of Boards in our advocacy is a piece we identify in both the Health of the U.S. Nonprofit Sector report, as well as in the programming at the upcoming Pop-Up.

At Independent Sector, we recently learned that a key provision to incentivize giving has been included in the Securing a Strong Retirement Act of 2021, introduced by Reps. Richard Neal (D-MA) and Kevin Brady (R-TX). The bill includes a modified version of the bipartisan Legacy IRA Act, introduced by Reps. Don Beyer (D-VA) and Mike Kelly (R-PA), which would enable seniors to make one-time, tax-free contributions from their individual retirement accounts to charities through life-income plans. Planned giving experts estimate the Legacy IRA Act would raise up to $1 billion annually for charities. If you’ve been a part of Independent Sector’s community for some time, you might remember our efforts to advocate for the IRA rollover goes back to 2006 when it was first created. There have been wins and losses along the way, but we are thrilled that this important change appears closer to reality. We know we have the tireless advocacy of our members and community partners to thank for that.

These two examples illustrate the need to keep the fits and starts that come with systems change work. There are countless other ways your organizations are advocating on behalf of communities across the country to create a healthier and more just world, and you have lessons from the setbacks, as well as the opportunities. We hope you join us to share your own experiences and hear from others next week at the Upswell Pop-Up on Tuesday, May 11, and then in a more intimate session — the Upswell Exchange — on May 27. You can learn more about both events here.

Thanks, as always, for all that you do to be an engaged and critical part of our community.

Types: Blog
Global Topics: Civil Rights, Public Policy, Race, Equity, and Inclusion