Nonprofit Advocacy 101 Workshop: Bolder Advocacy for Sonoma County Leaders

3 min read. Photo: Amy Holter of Community Foundation Sonoma County, Kim Bender of the Healthcare Foundation, J Mullineaux of the SRJC Foundation, and Stephanie Martinez of the Peter E. Haas Jr. Family Fund at the Bolder Advocacy 101 workshop on Feb 29, 2024.

Many nonprofit executives and boards believe that advocacy, especially lobbying, are off limits for nonprofit organizations. And yet all of us in this space, including our donors, our grantees and the people we all serve, want to see us investing in lasting solutions to social issues, instead of continually putting bandaids on problems that never seem to change. We see that what is necessary is systemic, large-scale policy changes that require everything from grassroots organizing to lobbying our legislators. But is it appropriate and legal for nonprofits to engage in these activities? Turns out many of us already are engaging in various forms of advocacy, and there’s a lot more we can legally do as nonprofits.

To find out exactly what we can and can’t do, the Healthcare Foundation participated in 2023 in a six-month Building Power Cohort hosted by Northern California Grantmakers. One goal we articulated—in our smaller cohort with the San Francisco Foundation, facilitated by an executive at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation—was to present a free workshop for Sonoma County nonprofits, to share what we were learning about how to safely advocate for change while staying within IRS guidelines.

We accomplished that goal last month when the Healthcare Foundation, along with the Community Foundation Sonoma County, Peter E. Haas Jr. Family Fund, and the SRJC Foundation, co-hosted the Nonprofit Advocacy 101 workshop for 75 local leaders. After a stirring keynote speech by Henry A.J. Ramos, Senior Fellow at the Institute for Race, Power and Political Economy at The New School, our colleagues at Bolder Advocacy, a program of Alliance for Justice, led the training for a very full room of engaged participants who were all Sonoma County–based nonprofit CEOs, EDs, and Board Chairs.

Participants at the Nonprofit Advocacy 101 workshop listen to Sarah Efthymiou and Quyen Tu, Senior Counsel and Senior Director at Alliance for Justice | Bolder Advocacy

As Henry said in his opening remarks, “Today’s nonprofit leaders must come together as never before to create new conditions and opportunities for a more inclusive economy and a better way forward for all.… Democracy is not a spectator sport. In order to work, it requires activism, organizing, and collective action.”

Following the training, Bolder Advocacy moderated a panel with Karym Sanchez, ED of North Bay Organizing Project, and Cynthia King, CEO of CAP Sonoma, who shared their approaches to advocacy at their nonprofits, including some wins and some challenges. At the end of the day, participants broke out into small groups to discuss where they are in their advocacy journey, what they have learned, and a concrete step they could take over the next 30 days to further the use of advocacy at their organization.

The following are some comments about the workshop from our co-hosts.

Panelists Karym Sanchez of North Bay Organizing Project and Cynthia King of CAP Sonoma

Amy Holter, VP for Impact at the Community Foundation Sonoma County: “For so long, many nonprofits have been told that lobbying and other forms of advocacy are off limits. Not only is this not true, but it can also further entrench existing power structures and systems in government by keeping nonprofit voices and the voices of the people they serve at bay.… Lobbying and other forms of advocacy can not only further nonprofit missions but can also help to ensure greater financial stability for nonprofits.… I was so heartened to hear the collective calls for change in the room and am so looking forward to future collaborative endeavors with the Healthcare, Haas, and SRJC foundations.” 

Stephanie Martinez, Program Manager at the Peter E. Haas Jr. Family Fund: “We are glad to have played a small role with the Healthcare Foundation, the Community Foundation Sonoma County and the SRJC Foundation to support our nonprofit partners in Sonoma County to explore the rules of advocacy. The advocacy role of nonprofits can unite and empower communities to change policies that address the chronic inequities they experience. Ultimately, this is key to the promise of  a multi-racial democracy.”

J Mulineaux, Executive Director of the SRJC Foundation: “Nonprofits can, and should be involved in advocacy work if we have any chance of fulfilling our organizational missions. Philanthropy is a drop in the bucket when it comes to the change we are trying to catalyze. The Bolder Advocacy training clearly articulated the many ways we can embark on advocacy, and/or build coalitions with organizations that are more active in this work. We are excited about bringing this training to our full Board at a later date.”

The response from the 75 participants was enthusiastic and clear: We need more trainings to become even better advocates in order to exercise our voices on behalf of our grantees and clients. The Healthcare Foundation looks forward to collaborating with our partners on more advocacy workshops for Sonoma County nonprofit leaders, so we can align around issues, and bring our collective voice to the building of local power for real, systemic change.

Please see the Bolder Advocacy Resource Page, with links to free resources for nonprofits who want to learn more about non-partisan advocacy, including a free hotline for questions nonprofits might have about specific cases.

Kim Bender, ED at Healthcare Foundation; Sarah Efthymiou, Senior Counsel at Alliance for Justice | Bolder Advocacy; and keynote speaker Henry Ramos, Senior Fellow at the Institute on Race, Power and Political Economy at The New School

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