13 March 2020

Making the Case for Philanthropy in Your Hometown

There are myriad ways nonprofit leaders can engage with policymakers: DC fly-ins, calls with staff, tele-town halls, letter writing campaigns, the list goes on. But there’s one kind of advocacy that might be the easiest and most effective: hometown engagement.

Why should you engage at home you might ask? It all comes down to consistency, opportunity and constituent appeal.

Lawmakers Work for You

Lawmakers are elected by you, their constituents, which puts you in a unique position to share your organizations’ impact and encourage them to change policies to help your organization successfully carry out its mission. In a time when even the least contentious of issues, like charitable giving, have difficulty getting air time on Capitol Hill, your ties to the community are some of your strongest ammunition.

What differentiate nonprofit organizations from other constituent interests are the critical community services you provide with no profit incentive and the relationships you make with constituents from all backgrounds. Those constituents would likely rely on the government for these services if you weren’t providing them, and there’s real leverage in that.

So, as you’re determining your local engagement strategy with lawmakers, keep in mind that they also have an incentive to meet with you, so you might as well take advantage of it.

Time and Opportunity Are Greater at Home

DC fly-ins are great once or twice a year, but a huge part of their value is to be a springboard for more consistent, effective advocacy at home. The first part of the argument is pretty logical – you spend way more time in your home state and town than you do in Washington, DC, which means you have more time and opportunity to meet with your lawmakers and their staff.

The second part is a little less obvious, but when lawmakers are in DC, their primary objective is to legislate, which means they’re focused on hearings, caucus meetings, making it to votes on time and even attending fundraisers. However, when they’re back home, their primary objective is to engage with their constituents, and that includes meeting with them to discuss the most pressing issues their organizations are facing. Take advantage of that.

Consistent Engagement Wins

Odds are, the more times you ask for something, the more likely you are to receive. That’s why it’s so important to connect with your lawmakers and their staff on a consistent basis. That doesn’t mean weekly meetings, but every couple months, either hosting the member of congress for a meeting to discuss your organization’s priorities or attending town hall gatherings to check in on what your member is doing to support the issues you care about can go a long way. You’ll soon be recognized by the member and their staff, and it sends the message that you’re serious about public policy that impacts your organization.

Whether it’s hometown engagement, advocacy days, town halls or emails, it’s so important that nonprofit organizations advocate for their interests. Otherwise, our critics will be happy to take the microphone to speak for us.