Strength in Numbers
Sometimes, organizations have to stand alone and advocate for specific issues on their own. But when trying to move the legislative ball on large issues, there’s strength in numbers.
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society is a voluntary health organization dedicated to funding blood cancer research, education and patient services. As its vice president of public policy, George Dahlman spends most of his time dealing with legislation surrounding the specific topic of patient issues — issues such as how combined health charities such as the United Way list potential charities that federal employees can donate to, a non-itemizer’s ability to deduct charitable contributions, and estate-tax reform.
But for more global issues facing nonprofit health organizations, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society relies on its membership in coalitions and trade organizations to advocate on its behalf. The Independent Sector, for example, is one of the 10 or so coalitions the organization belongs to.
“When those issues raise their head, we count on Independent Sector to really take a leadership role,” Dahlman says.
He believes it’s important for an organization to recognize which issues are central to its mission and to tackle those head on.
“In the course of prioritizing what you spend your limited resources on, you really have to determine what’s the best bottom-line impact for your mission and identify those mechanisms that are going to be most efficient in getting each of those things accomplished,” Dahlman says.
Finding a cure for blood cancer is the primary mission of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, so Dahlman spends most of his time and resources there. On the other hand, an issue such as cancer in general, while also central to the organization’s mission, is so big that no one organization can tackle it alone. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, along with many other cancer-focused health organizations, relies on a coalition called One Voice Against Cancer to try to collectively move its agenda.
“Identify issues on what’s a core value and a core thing that you can affect vs. the things that you share in common with other groups and could collectively move the ball on or affect as a kind of community,” Dahlman says.
Belonging to coalitions with members from all parts of the country is the best way to affect legislative change.
“It really requires critical mass and numbers, and especially geographical impact because Congress is a geographical institution, and the more that they hear from their constituents, the more you’re able to rally support for things,” he adds.
George Dahlman can be reached via www.leukemia-lymphoma.org