Stand For Your Mission Pushes Board Advocacy

July 15, 2015       Patrick Sullivan      

BoardSource released the third edition of its seminal document “10 Basic Responsibilities for Nonprofit Boards” today, and readers will notice some fundamental changes. The document has a stronger focus on board members’ advocacy. That’s not an accident.

“BoardSource has long believed that the board has a very important role to play outside the boardroom as advocates for mission,” said Anne Wallestad, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based organization. Wallestad said a concerted effort is needed for boards to embrace the role of advocate, and the revamping of the 10 Basic Responsibilities is a part of that effort.

The release of the document is also a new step in the Stand For Your Mission campaign, convened by BoardSource. The campaign’s ultimate goal is to have advocacy become as fundamental a part of every board member’s responsibility as fundraising and fiscal responsibility are.

“At its core, this is about changing the culture of nonprofit boards so they think about advocacy as a core strategy for their organizations and mission and impact,” said Wallestad. “Boards are comprised intentionally by bringing people together with strong relationships and reputations in their communities, and when organizations don’t tap into those networks they’re leaving opportunities for impact on the table.”

Launched this past fall, Stand For Your Mission can be seen as a scaling up of a local program initiated by the Seattle-based Campion Advocacy Fund. “The whole project started small. For our own project in Washington state, we tried to mobilize board members. There are about 500 organizations and between 5,000 and 10,000 board members working in homelessness,” explained Sonya Campion, president of the Campion Advocacy Fund in Seattle.

Also involved are the National Council of Nonprofits, the Knight Foundation, the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers and BolderAdvocacy, a project of Alliance for Justice.

Campion believed if she was able to get even one-quarter of those board members mobilized and advocating, “We could really establish these policies as the rule of the land,” she said. “We had 114 board members show up on lobbying day,” this year she said. “We got a bill passed that will help with funding for programs. We had a dozen board members show up (to the hearing) and identify themselves and say they’re there for homelessness. You know they’ll walk away proud and more committed than ever” to their organizations and missions.”

Campion and Wallestad said a lack of education has hampered board members advocating for their organizations. “There is so much misinformation and misunderstanding about what advocacy is and what nonprofits can do,” said Wallestad. Some common misconceptions include board members believing they’re not allowed to advocate, and that lobbying is the same as advocacy when it is actually a subset.

“Because there’s confusion about what’s ok and what’s not ok, nonprofits and boards say ‘We don’t want to get anywhere near that.’ That’s a huge loss for the sector,” said Wallestad.

Campion said that grantmakers often put up certain barriers. “A lot of philanthropy gets in the way by telling grantees (advocacy) is illegal and putting statements in grant agreements saying no advocacy,” she said. She’d like to see foundation trustees becoming advocates, but concedes “that’s a long way off.”

The launch of Stand For Your Board took about a year’s worth of conversation. “Anne was on fire. She really got it,” said Campion.

“We were excited to connect with Sonya Campion, who’s been doing a ton of work on boards’ role in advocacy in homelessness,” said Wallestad. “We worked together as a working group on planning and speaking behind the campaign for about a year, then we officially launched.”

Wallestad said the campaign has thus far been successful at starting a conversation about board members and advocacy. “The challenge now as a campaign and as an organization is to make sure we keep the conversation going,” she said.

Campion wants participants to know that they can make a difference. Don’t be scared off by big money and corporate lobbyists. Advocacy is integral to the health of the entire sector, because “If we’re not at the table, we’re on the menu,” she said.

For more information, go to http://standforyourmission.org/