Today’s post is the third in a series about board members and nonprofits advocating for their missions and the people they serve. Board members must understand how public policy impacts their organizations, the importance of educating policy makers, and the need to include resources for advocacy in an organization’s budget. In this post, I interview Judy Reckelhoff, Chief of Staff for BoardSource. She describes why BoardSource has elevated advocacy and points to resources they provide to help nonprofits and board members.

Why did Board Source start focusing on advocacy?
It started six or seven years ago. We were hearing more and more from sector leaders that board members did not understand what advocacy was. They thought it was illegal for their organization to engage in advocacy. This lack of knowledge was inhibiting nonprofit organizations and the sector more broadly to interact with policy makers as they contemplated important policy and funding decisions.

At BoardSource, we realized that we could drive change in board member understanding. We needed to make it clear not only that nonprofit organizations can advocate but also that they should be advocating. Government officials make decisions that impact the people an organization is serving and their ability to access services as well as the organization itself.

Do you have advice on who should decide what issues to advocate for?
It depends on the organization. We recommend that as organizations become more engaged with public policy, they bring on board members who understand that public policy is a strategy for impact, who are well-positioned to support those efforts, and who can guide the organization’s advocacy strategy. Board members should also provide guidance around when the CEO is empowered to advocate and when the board or board chair should be consulted before taking a stand, which could include issues that may be controversial.

Read the full Q&A about nonprofit advocacy by Janet Levinger and Judy Reckelhoff at BoardSource.