The way we interact with our community and the resources we have access to can all be traced to politics and policymaking. The new home built in my neighborhood was shaped by local policy and the decisions of elected and appointed leaders. The cleanliness of my tap water is the result of public investments in infrastructure and cleaning facilities. My next meal comes from a food industry regulated by various levels of government, who are all in turn shaped by leaders hired by public dollars, elected by local voters, or appointed by those elected leaders.

This is why I believe that organizations committed to providing services for marginalized communities must take an active role in advocating for their communities. To truly serve our communities, we must be educators, connectors, and advocates within our governments alongside policymakers.

Advocacy can be a so-called “third rail” for organizations with a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status. Fear of breaking the law, losing your tax designation, or losing foundation funding are all or individually enough to keep organizations far away from fulfilling their role as advocates. It’s not uncommon to hear someone in the community development field say “we don’t do advocacy.” Some even take on the mantles of “equity” and “justice,” yet stop short of using their platforms to speak truth to power.

But nonprofits must be advocates. If we are in proximity to under-represented and under-invested communities—if they are sharing their lives with us—it’s our duty to use our platforms to elevate the issues they face and advocate alongside them for a better way.

Here are five steps I’ve shared with nonprofit peers who want to advocate for the communities they serve:

  1. Talk to a lawyer.
  2. Create a “power map” to understand who is influencing systems.
  3. Reach out to other organizations in your region.
  4. Engage the people your organization serves in the advocacy process.
  5. Be specific and persistent.

Read the full article about nonprofit advocacy by Rudy Espinoza at Blue Avocado.