September, 2004 -by Peter C. Brinckerhoff

This Month's topic: Political Activities/Advocacy

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A new resource for you!

Problem: There is so much going on in our field that a once-a-month communication doesn't seem adequate. Moreover, with a single monthly topic in the newsletter, what do I do if I hear something important about, say, Political Activities (this month's topic) in October? How do I get the information out to you promptly?

Solution: The Mission-Based Management Blog. I am trying to post every day with something of value to nonprofit board, staff, volunteers, and funders.

Check it out, see if you find things that can help you. My postings are in no particular order, just what's on my mind, or what has crossed my desk or monitor that I think you should be aware of.
And, like any blog, you can comment right on the blog for others to see. If you agree, disagree, or have other resources to share, please do!

This Month's Topic: Political Activities/Advocacy
Each month, this area provides with a number of my favorite and most helpful sites regarding the topic of the month.

Management Tip of the Month

Each issue, I start with a discussion of my management perspective on the month's topic, and give you a few hands-on ideas to consider.

Recommended Publications

Here, I provide you with my recommendations on the best printed materials available that can help you become more mission-capable in the area of Political Activity/Advocacy.


I provide you with some good ideas for uses of tech to better your organization in the area of political activity/advocacy.

Marketing Tip

So much to say, so little space to say it.....

Next Issue

In October, we'll examine some ways to recruit and retain younger board members, volunteers and employees.

And, in October, my newest book is being released! It's called Nonprofit Stewardship, and is being published my the Wilder Foundation. I'm really excited about the book and look forward to your reaction.

Websites of the Month

This section includes websites of interest on this month's topic, Political Activities/Advocacy. I urge you to give each a look, as they often cover different areas or have a different focus on the topic area. And, pay careful attention to what you see. This issue is fraught with law, regulation and risk. Make sure you have it right before you go out and act. Good stuff on Advocacy limits from the Nonprofit Good Practice Guide A good article from the New York CPA Journal. Good differentiation of politics and advocacy from the Alliance for Justice Excellent information from the Minnesota Council on Nonprofits Recent guidance to nonprofits from the accounting firm BDO Seidman Political activity guidance from the Nonprofit FAQ

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Management Tip of the Month
Political Activity and Advocacy

Election time is coming, the conventions are over (well, almost as this is sent out) and we will have more and more yard signs, television and radio commercials, billboards, and bumper stickers assailing us than ever before over the next 9 weeks leading up to November 2. Some of us enjoy the hubbub, some don't, but what you don't want to face during or after the election are accusations of organizational wrongdoing.

So what is your organization's role in what Jon Stewart on The Daily Show calls "Indecision 2004"? Where is the line between lobbying, politicking and advocacy?

It depends.

Advocacy is a totally appropriate part of many not-for-profits' mission and activities. Association for Retarded Citizens, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, various HIV/AIDS awareness groups are all doing advocacy for their constituency.

Lobbying by 501(c)(3) organizations is strictly limited. This would include urging the passage (or defeat) of a particular bill, or its amendment. If your organization is set up to lobby, there are set financial limits.

Political Activities, such as donating funds, spending organizational assets (such as staff time, postage, phones, etc.) are strictly forbidden for any 501(c) in support of any particular candidate or party. (Don't get me started on the current mess with 527's.

I have listed a number of great links on this subject. Read them and refer to them in the coming months. And, remember that organizational activity restrictions do not (and should not) restrict individual employees' freedom of speech. Thus an employee or volunteer wearing a campaign button or having a bumper sticker on his or her car is considered enjoying his or her right of free speech. I have seen reports of people providing direct service being restricted while providing service. Check with your attorney, or better yet, your trade association's attorney about that.

Oh, and remember to vote on November 2!

If you found this hint helpful, there are lots more management, marketing, and technology ideas for you in the "Ideas" section at Check them out--they're free.

And, remember to take a look at the Mission-Based Management Blog.

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Print Resources

My two recommendations in Political Activity/Advocacy are shown below. Both are excellent tools.

If you want more information on these recommendations, click on the cover image. You will go the page about the book on There, you can look at more info about the book, and read some reviews before you decide whether or not to purchase or look for this book at your local library.

Note: If you want more recommendations on publications in a wide variety of areas, including management and advocacy, go to the publications section of my website:

Again, If you don't find enough choices there, type "nonprofit governance " in the search box on the left hand side of the page and you'll have more choices than you probably want!

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Technology Ideas .

Technology and Political Activity - or, you can't vote if you don't register
In technology, there are many tools you can use for your advocacy efforts. These include your website, an e-newsletter, email, and various kinds of membership tracking software. But, since we are coming up on an election, I want to use this space to give you three good places to go to allow your staff, board, and other constituencies and their families to register to vote.

Remember, even if you feel disenfranchised at the federal level (i.e. your state is not a "battleground" state) there are still thousands of state and local elections that may very well impact your ability to provide excellent services. Your vote does count, but you can't vote if you don't register. And, voter registration is completely legal for nonprofits, as long as you are not endorsing any particular candidate.

Here are four good registration sites:

You should also consider putting some voter registration links on your website like I do on mine. You can also send a voter registration reminder out by email. Check before you do to be able to include the deadline for registration in your state, and to include information about absentee ballots. The links above are national and you can use them, or you can use your state Secretary of State's site.

If you found this hint helpful, there are lots more management, marketing, and technology ideas for you in the "Ideas" section at Check them out--they're free.

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Training Schedule for Peter Brinckerhoff

Below you'll see the date, location, and topics of training I'm scheduled to do in the next three months. For more information on a particular speaking engagement, get in touch with the contact person listed in the right hand column, or email me.

For more information on my availability throughout the next 12-18 months, available topics, sample agendas, and fees go to

Date City Topic Contact
9/23/04 Houston Mission-Based Marketing Russanne Kelly
United Way of the Texas Gulf Coast
9/30/04 Lake Tahoe TBA The Center for Civic Partnerships
Michelle Johnston
10/6-7 Atlantic City Business Development Nils Richardson
10/12-13/04 Couer d'Alane ID Leadership NISH Regional Conference
Susan Milstien
10/14-15 San Antonio Business Development NISH
Deborah Atkinson
12/2-3/04 Atlanta Intro To Marketing NISH
Deborah Atkinson

Marketing Tip
Marketing and Advocacy -stop telling people what they need.....

Does marketing have an impact on this area? Of course, but I really have nothing to add in the political activity arena here. Read my management tip, and look at the recommended websites. And remember - political campaigning is prohibited.

Advocacy, however is a different thing altogether, so let's talk about it. Readers of my books, or people who have attended my training know my mantra: "It's not about needs, it's about wants." People have needs. People seek wants. For-profit marketers are good at getting us to want things we don't need.

In the not-for-profit world, our job is to make people want things they do need. And when advocating, we run the biggest risk of not only telling people what they need, but cramming it down their throat. Advocates are often passionate about what they are trying to convince people of, and that passion sometimes results in an attitude of "Why can't you see? You need (the world needs)....."

In advocacy, just like in the rest of marketing, the trick is to give people what they need in a way that they want it. Thus, before advocating for something, think through how the change you are advocating for will appeal to a want of the listener. How it will solve a problem, reduce a difficulty, make them feel better in some tangible way.

Wants rule!

If you want to see more about this in detail, take a look at more about my book Mission-Based Marketing; Second Edition

If you found this hint helpful, there are lots more management, marketing, and technology ideas for you in the "Ideas" section at Check them out--they're free.

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Future Topics in 2004 and 2005 for the Mission-Based Management Newsletter....
October Increasing Involvement of Younger Staff, Board, and Volunteers
November Outcome Measurement
December Life-Long Learning
January Strategic Planning
February Leadership
March Core Competencies
April Expanding to New Markets
May Endowments
Send me your topic suggestions at

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You asked, so here they are: Past Single-Topic Issues of the Mission-Based Management Newsletter...
January Business Development
February Fund Raising
March Volunteers
April Financial Management
May Online Marketing
June Transparency
July Nonprofit Startup
August Governance


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