Panel Paper: Nonprofit Advocacy in Community Development: A Perspective on Roles and Functions

Thursday, November 6, 2014 : 9:10 AM
Dona Ana (Convention Center)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Colleen Casey, University of Texas at Arlington
This paper explains nonprofit advocacy in community development from a function or role perspective.  In the arena of community development, policy reforms have fueled the growth of nonprofits directly involved in the production of housing and in the delivery of social services. While the changing roles of nonprofits have been recognized in the literature, less certain is the extent that nonprofits engage in advocacy. As Almon-Bar and Schmid (2014) and Berry and Arons (2003), note, despite the abundant literature on nonprofits, less attention has been paid to the ways in which nonprofits represent their constituencies in policy processes and arenas. The purpose of this paper is to further knowledge on the relationship between nonprofit role or function and advocacy.  The primary questions this paper seeks to answer include: Is there evidence of convergence or divergence in the advocacy strategies used by nonprofits based on their role or function in community development?; And what environmental or organizational factors influence these patterns?

The research seeks to inform debates surrounding the potential conflicting roles of nonprofits as members of civil society or service providers and producers, and contributes to the literature by identifying convergences and divergences in advocacy of nonprofit organizations based on different roles or functions. Nonprofit organizations are espoused as being critical to democracy through their contribution to civil society (Eikenberry & Kluver, 2004; Putnam, 1993; 2000; Salamon, 1993), but at the same time concerns abound that the marketization of nonprofits may erode their civil society function, due to isomorphic pressures, striving to pursue resources for survival, and more direct engagement in service delivery or production (DeFilippis, Fisher, & Shragge, 2010; Rathgeb Smith, 2012; Salamon, 1993; Sandberg, 2012; 2013). Yet, others have argued that nonprofit organizations have found ways to balance the pursuit of broader political and social change and production or service functions (Glickman & Servon, 1998; Saegert, 2006; Sites, Chaskin, & Parks, 2007; Stoecker 2003). While a variety of nonprofits influence community development, less clear are the similarities and differences as to how nonprofits with different roles advocate for community development policy and who benefits.

The key components studied in this research include the following: choice of policy venues, key policy actors, alliances and coalitions that form, the interests they represent, and the outcomes they seek to change. Archival (administrative and government records and reports and policy briefs), survey and interview data are used for the analysis.  A representative sample of nonprofit community development organizations in three diverse metropolitan areas—Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, St. Louis, Missouri and Cleveland, Ohio—were identified for the analysis through a literature review, key informants and data from the National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS).  Preliminary results suggest that there are some similarities in the policy venues nonprofit organizations seek to inform, divergence appears in regards to the alliances and coalitions in which they participate as well as the outcomes they seek to influence. The next step of the research is to identify organizational and environmental factors that influence these relationships.