Nonprofits and Policy Advocacy: Learning from Success

There are many examples of how policy advocacy has translated into progressive policy change, yet its practice remains a challenge for many organizations that serve or work with marginalized communities. Throughout 2008, the ESPC conducted consultations with social agencies and community organizations in Edmonton to help determine the types of social research that would be most useful for agencies. Policy advocacy emerged as one of a number of key concerns. The consultations revealed that while social agencies acknowledge the value of policy advocacy, there are barriers such as inadequate resources, legal restrictions, the policy-making process, the political context, and others which prevent effective policy advocacy, making these initiatives challenging. This document, a secondary review of success in policy advocacy, is meant to help. Its intent is to provide examples of policy advocacy campaigns and to highlight some of the characteristics that made them successful. Many non-profit organizations have had positive experiences of policy advocacy. By examining some of the successes in non-profit policy advocacy both close to home and abroad, this document is meant to encourage and inspire agencies to embrace policy advocacy as an important part of their work, and to provide some information and resources to get started. It is important to note that, for some organizations, there are legal limitations for engaging in advocacy work. Charities and other non-profits should know what they are allowed and are not allowed to do before planning advocacy campaigns. Keep in mind, though, that even charitable organizations with strict advocacy limitations have taken part in successful policy advocacy initiatives. If your organization is subject to legal limitations, know the boundaries and work within them – there is still room to manoeuvre. This paper begins by defining what is meant by the term ‘policy advocacy’. In the second section, it looks at why policy advocacy is so important for the non-profit sector. In the third section, it presents examples of successful policy advocacy campaigns, and draws out some of the lessons that can be learned from these successes. Lists of coalitions and further resources are contained in the appendices.

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