News Published: Oct 19, 2015 - 1:07:31 AM

Legislators Help Nonprofits Hone Advocacy Skills

By Fairfield County’s Community Foundation

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Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff speaking at the “Advocacy Day” event in Trumbull, CT. (contributed photo)
Effective advocacy can be an essential component of a nonprofit’s strategy for success. Nonprofits should work to ensure that policymakers in local, state and national levels know about their work, and understand what role they play in improving the community.

Fairfield County’s Community Foundation’s Center for Nonprofit Excellence, in collaboration with the Connecticut Association of Nonprofits, held their first “Advocacy Day” on October 8, 2015 at the Trumbull Marriott, to help nonprofits build their advocacy skills. Attendees included over 100 individuals – from Executive Director level and staff, to board members and volunteers, representing more than 60 Fairfield County nonprofits.

Legislators provide insights with nonprofits for better advocacy

“We created Advocacy Day because to create sustainable improvements in our communities, partnering with the public sector is critical. Advocacy Day gave our nonprofit partners a chance to understand the legislative process and learn first hand from our elected officials how to work effectively with them.” said Juanita James, President and CEO of Fairfield County’s Community Foundation.

Senator Beth Bye, Chair of the Appropriations Committee; Juanita James, President & CEO of President and CEO of Fairfield County’s Community Foundation; and Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff at the “Advocacy Day” event in Trumbull, CT (contributed photo)
Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff set the stage for this engaging skill-building, storytelling and peer learning half day program. In his opening remarks, he reinforced the need for nonprofits to advocate for their organizations and reminded everyone in the room - “Don’t assume that because you’ve been around for decades that people know what you do.”

Attendees participated in various Skill-Building Breakout Sessions including “Civics 101—Understanding the Legislative Process”, presented by Jeff Shaw from
CT Association of Nonprofits; “Lobbying & Political Campaign Activities for Nonprofits”, presented by Maurice Segall of Pro Bono Partnership; and “Deconstructing the CT State Budget”, presented by Senator Beth Bye, Chair of the Appropriations Committee.

“Advocacy is critically important because policies and decisions are being made in Hartford that may impact your organization and the people you serve.” said Shaw during the “Civics 101” session. To provide attendees with a clear understanding of the Connecticut legislative process, Shaw shared details on how to navigate the legislative process and identify key legislators to advance a nonprofits’ work. Helping policymakers find specific solutions to persistent problems is one of the many benefits of advocacy.

During Segall’s session on “Lobbying and Political Campaign Activities for Nonprofits”, the focus was set on providing critical information to ensure that nonprofits engaged in advocacy activities stay within the law.

Senator Bye addressed issues regarding CT State Budget – “If you are just asking for the appropriation from your state representative, that might not be enough. You have to have the state departments on your side too.…2016 is a huge year. Re-education is needed when key people leave and new legislature comes in. Be aware of who ends up where.”

Nonprofits share their advocacy success stories

Following the Breakout Sessions, a Success Story Panel, moderated by Juanita James, President & CEO of Fairfield County’s Community Foundation, covered a range of topics, from “Engaging Your Board in Advocacy Work” to “Your Bill Passed; Now What?”. The panelists included Diane Sierpina of Tow Foundation; Nate Snow of Teach For America; Abby Anderson of CT Juvenile Justice Alliance; Lucas Codognolla of CT Students for a Dream; and Don Strait of CT Fund for the Environment.

Advocacy involves storytelling in a meaningful way. “We tend to get caught up in data. You need to match facts with the right story. How am I connecting to the relationship and the emotional appeal of that decision maker? … Connect with humanity and emotions.” said Snow while discussing the art of crafting compelling messaging for nonprofits.

Engaging the Board of Directors as advocates for the nonprofts they serve is another avenue for advocacy. “Invite them to meet your clients. They need to put a face on the issue because then they can tell that story to others. They are a different messenger than you.” said Sierpina.

Wrapping up the event, House Speaker Brendan Sharkey shared insights on how nonprofits can work effectively with their state legislative delegations to improve the communities they serve.

The collaborative nature of this event provided attendees with networking opportunities with other nonprofits and legislators; local insights and action ideas to take their advocacy to the next level. Social media was a buzz about the day’s events, especially among Twitter users who fit the purpose of the event neatly into a single hashtag - “#speakupfairfieldcounty”.

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