The “Over/Under Syndrome”
The nonprofit human services sector needs to take note of the truly stunning actions taken by the various organizations to mobilize the vast network of Internet users to whip up opposition to internet legislation they opposed (Stop Online Piracy Act or SOPA in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Protect IP Act or PIPA in the U.S. Senate).
What I loved about this effort, regardless of my position on the proposed legislation, is that not one paid lobbyist had to walk into Senator Harry Reid’s office to get the bills stopped.
It was the power of the people, speaking loud and clear, and mobilized through social media. It was the people who I am sure have other issues that they personally believe are more important, who came together to stand for a bigger principle that they all agreed to.
While I have spent some time serving in the public sector, most recently as secretary for the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, I have long commented that the nonprofit human services sector overestimates what it takes to influence public policy and budgets, and underestimates its ability to influence them!
As long as we stand passively in that mindset, who will mobilize and effectively advocate on behalf of those we serve? Who will stand up for us as the nonprofit human services sector, our values, our independence, and our missions to serve the millions of people across the country who see us as the lifeline they need to move beyond the challenges they face? It is us. We must stand for more than what may be described as our own self-interests that, in my opinion, often move us into the weeds in our advocacy.
For instance, if we as the nonprofit human services sector believe that too many children are being raised in poverty and near poverty, when it comes time for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program reauthorization, will many of us sit on the sidelines because, “we don’t receive TANF funding?” Or, will we raise our voices and advocate to make sure that this critical program moves from its current form of counting federally imposed participation requirements, to one that embraces the policy of engagement that matters, truly moves people out of poverty, and has a family centered view?
The Alliance for Children and Families and United Neighborhood Centers of America Public Policy Committee, under the co-leadership of Nancy Wackstein, executive director of United Neighborhood Houses of New York and Heather Feltman, president and CEO of Lutheran Social Services of New England, will be working over the next couple of months to “re-envision” our public policy work for the 21st century.
What larger principles do we stand for as two national organizations? How do we connect these principles to what it is we are specifically advocating for in terms of legislation or policy changes? How do we engage our members, as needed, around those specific “in the weeds” issues that we care so passionately about? How do we organize and mobilize our vast network of consumers, board members, staff, donors, and others through social media and other strategies to be heard and effective in Washington and across the country, as needed? Will they be willing to engage with us even if the specific issue we are advocating on is not directly going to benefit their agency, but will have great impact on the children, adults, and families they serve? Are we classic trade associations, or a movement on behalf of children families and their neighborhoods, or both?
I think it must be both and I would love to hear your views and guidance as we work to move out of the “over/under syndrome!”
About the Author
Susan Dreyfus is president and CEO of the Alliance and its parent holding company, Families International. In her capacity as president and CEO of Families International, she is CEO of United Neighborhood Centers of America and Ways to Work. Immediately preceding this role, she was secretary of the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services. She also previously was senior vice president and COO of the Alliance and Families International.