Bob Smucker Dies: A Founding Father of Nonprofit Advocacy

Robert “Bob” Martin Smucker, the founder of the Center for Lobbying in the Public Interest (CLPI) and one of the godfathers of nonprofit advocacy and lobbying, died Oct. 28 at his home in Falls Church, Va. He was 86.

Smucker was vice president for government relations at Independent Sector (IS) from 1980 to 1988. “Bob was one of IS’ principal architects and he left a lasting mark on both the organization and the communities we service,” IS leaders said via a statement after his passing. “The board and staff of Independent Sector extend our condolences and gratitude for a wonderful legacy to Bob’s family.”

Smucker began working with nonprofits in 1957 and was a lobbyist for charities at the local, state and national levels for more than 40 years. He earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and history from Bluffton University in Bluffton, Ohio, where he played football and later was inducted into the university’s athletic hall of fame.

After graduation in 1952, Smucker spent two years of alternative service at Brook Lane Farm, a mental hospital. He worked with state and local mental health associations in Pennsylvania from 1957 to 1971 before becoming director of public policy for the National Mental Health Association, where he served until 1979.

Smucker was among the founders of CLPI in 1988. The organization’s program content and materials was folded into the National Council of Nonprofits in 2012. He wrote “The Nonprofit Lobbying Guide” in 1999 which is out of print but still available for download at Independent Sector’s website. The guide is the essential resource for nonprofits in lobbying their causes before local, state or federal officials.

Neal Denton described Smucker as the original leader and teacher to charity advocates. “He brought us together to speak as one voice and built stunning coalitions across the sector,” said Denton, senior vice president, chief government affairs officer, for the YMCA of the USA.

“It’s funny – we were just talking about him recalling some of his lessons at the Independent Sector conference last week. I’m sure we’ll be talking about his legacy for many years to come, too,” Denton said.

“The nonprofit sector and our country owe Bob Smucker a tremendous debt of gratitude. He believed in the wisdom of the American people and the power of giving voice to that wisdom through advocacy,” said Tim Delaney, president and CEO of the National Council of Nonprofits. “Bob shared his belief and passion with countless nonprofits over the years,” he said, and as the first leader of CLPI ensured that nonprofits had the tools and knowledge to be effective advocates.

“As a fellow believer in the power of everyday nonprofit advocacy as a means for individuals to collectively lift their voices to have a rightful say in determining their own future, and as CEO of the organization that now houses the resources developed by CLPI over the years, we are proud to carry on his legacy,” said Delaney.

Surviving are two daughters Beth and Amy, and son John; sister Julia Penner, and four grandchildren. He was pre-deceased by his wife, Barbara. The two were married for 52 years.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Compassion and Choices, a Denver, Colo.-based nonprofit working to improve patient rights and choice at the end of life.