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Advocacy by Human Service Organizations Marcela Sarmiento Mellinger, MSW, Ph.D. University of Maryland at Baltimore County School of Social Work
Advocacy • Action taken on behalf of a group • Goal is broad level change • Through advocacy, human service nonprofit organizations (NPO) have: • Identified social problems • Protected basic human rights • Provided a voice to social, political, cultural, and community affairs • Acted as critics and guardians to bring about change
Review of the Literature • No agreement on one definition of advocacy • Emphasis on different aspects of advocacy depending on context • Points of agreement: • Advocacy: intervention on behalf of others • Macro or cause advocacy: action taken on behalf of a group of people • Micro or individual advocacy: action taken on behalf of one person or family • Advocacy: active not passive • Advocacy as a political activity is the most commonly used definition
Review of the Literature • Most research includes only legislative advocacy • Is intervention at other levels advocacy? • Scope of advocacy participation • Studies yield conflicting findings • Organizations are believed to participate in advocacy but intensity of participation is unclear • Activities utilized seen as peripheral
Review of the Literature • Structure of advocacy among organizations • Conceptually important, but there is a lack of systematic research • Advocacy Targets • Advocacy is a broad concept that includes legislative advocacy but also advocacy at other levels (Ezell, 2001) • Administrative • Legal • Community
Purpose of Study • Explore institutional factors that influence advocacy behavior of human service nonprofit organizations • Where? • Northeast Georgia region • Regarding: • Overall advocacy participation • Structure of advocacy • Targets of advocacy
Sample • Availability or convenience sample • Northeast Georgia Region • Sample size = 72 organizations • Sampling criteria: • 501(c)3 NPOs • Provide assistance to promote individual, social, economic, and psychological well being • Excluded: strictly medical and educational organizations
Procedure • Self administered electronic survey • One time administration • Survey construction based on literature and practice wisdom
What Was Predicted?Overall Advocacy Participation • Knowledge of the lobbying law predicted advocacy participation • Relationship between variables was negative
What Was Predicted?Structure of Advocacy • Formalization predicted structure of advocacy • Relationship between variables was positive
What Was Predicted?Targets of Advocacy • Knowledge of lobbying law predicted all targets except legal (courts) • Relationship between variables was positive • Restricted funding only predicted legislative advocacy at the state level • None of the predictor variables predicted legal advocacy
Limitations • Advocacy definition was given to participants • Non-random sample • Lack of instruments to measure advocacy targets. Scales used were new • Low response rate (72 cases out of 435) • Topic—potential fear of addressing an area that may be perceived as a threat to survival • Length of survey may have decreased participation
Implications - Practice • Increased visibility for NPOs within community • Increased legitimacy for NPOs within community • A seat at decision making table and a voice when decisions are made • At public policy level and beyond • Administration issues: • Staffing • Training (staff and board) • Resources
Implications - Policy • Increased visibility of NPOs where policies are implemented • A voice to the disadvantaged that should not be silenced - ability to inform public policy • Relationships with those in positions of authority • Exploration of advocacy beyond the legislative level
How Much (lobbying) Can We Do? • It depends! Are you advocating or lobbying? • At what level, federal, state, or local? • Which target, legislative, agency, legal, or community? • Federal level has regulations for lobbying • The “substantial rule” • The “H elector” rule or “expenditure test” • Limits on expenditures are based on a formula • IRS form 5768
A bit about lobbying • The substantial rule is not specific (in the law since 1934) • The law does not say that NPOs cannot speak out regarding public policy, but it does say they cannot lobby “substantially” • In reality, legislators need to and should interact with NPO leaders • Communication for educational purposes is not considered lobbying • Testifying or offering advice is not considered lobbying • This only applies to the legislative branch of government • Going to the executive branch or judicial branch is not covered by the law
H electors • If an H elector, the NPO is no longer governed by the “substantial rule” • Part of the Tax Reform Act of 1976 • Two sliding scale formulas • Direct lobbying of legislators • NPOs with budgets of up to $500,000 can spend 20% of all their expenditures on direct lobbying • NPOs with budgets $1.5-$17 million, can spend $225,000 + 5% of the budget over $1.5 million • Grass-roots lobbying • Allows NPOs to spend up to one fourth of the total allowable lobbying expenditures
What to do • Partisan political action violates the law • No endorsement of candidates for public office • Do not use government funds to lobby congress • It is alright to: • Focus your efforts on policy and regulation changes • Focus on clarifying or seeking change of governmental roles and responsibilities • Bring awareness of public interest issues • Educate legislators, administrators, judges, and community leaders • Develop relationships
References • Boris, E. T., & Mosher-Williams, R. (1998). Nonprofit advocacy organizations: Assessing the definitions, classifications, and data. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 27, 488-506. • Donaldson, L. P. (2008). Developing a progressive advocacy program within a human services agency. Administration in Social Work, 32, 25-48. • Ezell, M. (2001). Advocacy in the human services. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole. • Frumkin, P., & Galaskiewicz, J. (2004). Institutional isomorphism and public sector organizations. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 14, 283-307
References • Gibelman, M., & Kraft, S. (1996). Advocacy as a core agency program: Planning considerations for voluntary human service agencies. Administration in Social Work, 20, 43-59 • Kramer, R. M. (1981). Voluntary agencies in the welfare state. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. • Leiter, J. (2005). Structural isomorphism in Australian nonprofit organizations. Voluntas: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 16, 1-31 • Mosley, J. E. (2006). The policy advocacy of human service nonprofits: How institutional and environmental conditions shape advocacy involvement. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Los Angeles.
References • Ruef, M. M., & Scott, W. R. (1998). A multidimensional model of organizational legitimacy: Hospital survival in changing institutional environments. Administrative Science Quarterly, 43, 877-904. • Salamon, L. M. (2002). The state of nonprofit America. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press. • Schneider, R. L., & Netting, F. E. (1999). Influencing social policy in a time of devolution: Upholding social work's great tradition. Social Work, 44, 349-357. • Scott, W. R. (2001). Institutions and organizations. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc. • Taylor, E. D. (1987). From issue to action: An advocacy program model. Lancaster, PA: Family Service.