The Difference Nonprofits Can Make in Politics
Nonprofit organizations have always had a significant effect on politics and culture in the U.S. Their effect on legislation and culture is vital to our democracy. These organizations allow mobilization of passionate citizens for an issue they feel is important, regardless of establishment politics.
While there are many potential legal issues that can arise from nonprofit organizations becoming involved in politics, their pivotal role in the democratic process should always be undertaken.
Even if you fear for your nonprofit organization, many exist that get through legal difficulties and are effective agents of change.
Looking at prominent organizations, like the National Rifle Association and the Environmental Defense Fund, you can clearly see how they have affected legislations like the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act or the 911 Good Samaritan legislation in California.
You need to observe the history of nonprofit and charitable organizations, learning what aspects allowed them to succeed and what limited their effectiveness. Without this reflection, your chances of success are greatly diminished.
National Rifle Association
The National Rifle Association, commonly known as the NRA, is dedicated to advocating for the right to bear arms in the U.S. The NRA has been directly lobbying in defense of said gun rights since 1975 and additionally educates people in firearm safety and competency.
Regardless of your personal views on the issues that the NRA fights for, it cannot be denied that the nonprofit organization is rampantly successful in both its aims to educate.
This includes opposing the renewal of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban in 2004, supporting the Disaster Recovery Personal Protection Act in 2006 and the creation and funding of the National School Shield Program in 2012.
These pieces of legislation all focus around the key issues that the NRA cares about—protection of gun rights and education regarding those rights and how to properly and safely exercise them. However, the key to the NRA’s success and the primary action you should learn from them is the importance of membership.
The NRA has over five million members as of 2013, and this powerful base gives them the ability to shape legislation and culture. While it would obviously be unfeasible to suggest you should raise membership levels to such heights, you remember that other people are certain to care about your cause.
You need to mobilize the support of those who agree with you, enable them to have a voice and express their concerns through your organization.
Environmental Defense Fund
The Environmental Defense Fund, also known as the EDF, is a similar organization to the NRA, if dedicated to a wholly separate cause.
The EDF advocates for environmental issues facing the U.S., primarily focusing on global warming and the restoration of various ecosystems across the U.S.
While less successful than the NRA in its legislative changes, the EDF has still been effective for a relatively new organization and has made a large cultural impact. The EDF’s legislative influences include the banning of chlorofluorocarbon gases, commonly known as Freon, in 1987 and co-authoring the Global Warming Solution Act in 2006.
Both pieces of legislation had a large positive effect on the environment, particularly the banning of the pervasive use of Freon gases, and more importantly, played a large part in changing the cultural attitude toward environmental issues.
Seventy-four percent of American adults believe “the country should do whatever it takes to protect the environment,” according to a 2017 survey by Pew Research Center. One could conclude that the EDF’s efforts with environmental issues have made a large contribution to this positive opinion.
Arguably, the main reason for the EDF’s successes in passing legislation—and a common point of criticism levied toward the organization—is its close ties with large businesses. This includes the likes of McDonald’s and Walmart, companies with poor track history around environmental issues.
However, this relationship with companies initially against the EDF’s pro-environment politics has had large successes in changing the attitudes and policy of said companies.
This is what you should take from the EDF’s successes. Don’t be afraid to contact opponents of your nonprofit organization and talk them through the issues. Even if you cannot convince them to change, you can get a better understanding of why certain people oppose your view and adapt your argument if necessary.
- Never give up hope; you can make a difference.
- Support your members and potential members in their feelings toward your cause.
Be diplomatic and engage with your opponents to advance productively.
Kayla Matthews writes about AI, the cloud and retail technology. You can also find her work on The Week, WIRED, Digital Trends, MarketingDive and Contently, or check out her personal tech blog.