All politics is local.”  This quote is often attributed to the late Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, Jr., Speaker of the U. S. House of Representatives from 1977 until his retirement in 1987.  As individuals, we are engaged in this country’s political process—we vote, we sign petitions, we might even register others to vote.  It is a right we have and need to take full advantage of as citizens of this country.

But what about your nonprofit organization?

Is Your Organization Engaged in Public Policy Discussions?

Politics and public policy don’t often go hand in hand with the nonprofit experience. However, as we look deeper into the issues that impact our country, perhaps they should.

  • Would your organization be more effective if certain laws or regulations were amended, added, or stricken from the books?
  • What problems could you solve with more support from a local, state or federal government?

I am not talking about more money for services or additional government grants, I am talking about changes in public policy. How does the government impact your organization, positively or negatively, through its actions or inactions?

Should Your Organization Engage in Public Policy Discussions?

As your organization assess its current landscapes, you should take into consideration the needs of your respective communities; other organizations working within the “space”; those you are serving; your corporate, foundation, and individual donors; and your elected officials.

Elected officials? Are you sure? 

Yes, I am sure.

The last few years have highlighted the importance of the nonprofit sector’s proactive involvement in advocacy.

Whether you are talking about the treatment of the federal charitable tax deduction, state oversight of organizations, or municipalities negotiating PILOTs, otherwise known as payments in lieu of taxes, the nonprofit sector has seen an increase in government involvement in issues impacting organizations and donors.

Case and Point: The Charitable Tax Deduction

Would anyone have guessed that the charitable tax deduction would be up for discussion in the President’s budget or in tax reform proposals coming from members of Congress?  Before 2009, probably not.  Since then, yes.

By placing the charitable deduction on the table, the Administration and Congress signaled to the sector that everything is in play.  Various proposals coming from the White House and Congress could “cost” the sector anywhere between $3B and $9.4B in charitable gifts.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Would your organization be willing to absorb a decrease in revenue?
  • What programs would your scale back?
  • Who would you not be able to serve?
  • Would your donors give more, even if their tax deduction was less than in previous years?

The Charitable Giving Coalition is a group of nonprofit organizations, foundations, associations, and for profit-businesses serving the sector.  I am proud to say that Blackbaud is a member.  It has united our diverse sector to speak with one voice on this important issue for all nonprofit organizations.  And, so far it has worked.  The coalition continues to monitor legislation, budget and tax reform proposals for their treatment of the deduction.

The Nonprofit Sector’s Voice Matters

Reaching out to our elected officials signals to them which issues are important to the sector, how their actions or lack there of impact your employees, organizations, donors, or those your organizations serve.

As their constituents, we can make our voices heard.


Sally J. Ehrenfried leads Philanthropy and Volunteer Engagement at Blackbaud, Inc. (NASDAQ: BLKB), headquartered in Charleston, SC., and is responsible for the company’s global community relations, corporate giving and volunteerism portfolios.  Sally also manages the company’s public policy efforts by working with local, state and federal groups to advocate for policies that benefit the nonprofit community.

Sally spent 13 years in the United States Senate as an aide to Senators George J. Mitchell (D-Maine), William S. Cohen (R-Maine), and Ronald L. Wyden (D-Oregon), serving in a variety of committee, personal office, and leadership staff roles.

Sally is the Immediate Past Chair of the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ US Government Relations Committee and a member of the Giving Institute’s Public Policy Committee.  She serves on the board of directors for the South Carolina Association of Nonprofit Organizations and is a member of the Leadership Faculty for the Corporate Institute, a Points of Light enterprise.

Sally is a graduate of Bates College in Lewiston, ME, and received a master’s degree in Business Administration from the Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina.  She is a recipient of the Bates College Distinguished Young Alumni Award, a past President of the Bates College Alumni Association and is a member of the Bates Fund Executive Committee.

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