Panel Paper: Adequate Advocacy? Nonprofit Engagement in the Policymaking Process

Saturday, November 10, 2018
Jackson - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Jodi Benenson and Melanie Chapman, University of Nebraska, Omaha

While nonprofit organizations play an important role in delivering services, to achieve a higher level of local and national impact, nonprofits must also become experts in advocacy (McLeod Grant & Crutchfield, 2007). Advocacy in the forms of representation and mobilization are important activities for nonprofit organizations to undertake because of the substantive effects on politics, policy conversations, and clients (Berry & Arons, 2005; DiMaggio & Anheier, 1990; Fyall, 2016). Without the involvement of nonprofit organizations in the policymaking process, the vulnerable populations these organizations serve are left without effective representation.

There is a growing body of empirical research that explores the interactions between nonprofit organizations, advocacy, and policymaking. Research has examined the connection between nonprofit advocacy and service provision (Nicholson-Crotty, 2007), the relationship between public funding and advocacy (Chaves, Stephens, & Galaskiewicz, 2004; LeRoux & Goerdel, 2009; Mosley, 2011), and the role of organizational characteristics on advocacy activities (Child & Grønbjerg 2007; Guo & Saxton 2010; Pekkanen, Smith, & Tsujinaka, 2014). However, little research has triangulated survey data from nonprofit leaders and policymakers to understand how these actors perceive, understand, and act around advocacy activities.

This paper uses data from two surveys to examine the relationship between nonprofit advocacy and policymaking in the state of Nebraska. The surveys will capture information from nonprofit leaders and policymakers about advocacy activities, perceptions, and knowledge; capacity to engage in advocacy activities; and organizational characteristics. Specifically, this paper will answer the following questions: What is the level of awareness, knowledge, and capacity of nonprofits and policymakers to engage in advocacy activities? How do policymakers at the city, county, and state levels perceive nonprofit engagement in the policymaking process?

Data for this paper come from two online surveys. The first survey will be given to the Executive Directors of the 500 organizations in the Nonprofit Association of the Midlands’ database as well from over 1,000 of NAM’s partners, which includes 14 United Way agencies, community foundations, and other nonprofit organizations in the state. The second survey will be given to policymakers across all levels of government in the state of Nebraska and will use lists from the League of Nebraska Municipalities and the Coalition for a Strong Nebraska to access local and state administrators and elected officials. The surveys were designed using a combination of questions from reliable survey instruments (Berry & Arons, 2005; Strolovitch, 2007) and supplemental questions to answer the study’s research questions. Descriptive, bivariate, and multivariate regression analyses will be conducted to answer the aforementioned research questions.

This paper has implications for both research and practice. First, the surveys developed for this study can be implemented in states beyond Nebraska, allowing for comparisons of nonprofit advocacy and policymaking outcomes across multiple states. Moreover, understanding the existing activities, challenges, and perceptions of nonprofits and policymakers around advocacy will have implications for the ways local organizations expand and tailor their education and training efforts around these issues. Finally, this paper will provide further insights into where future nonprofit-public partnerships may be developed.