Austin-area nonprofits are gearing up for their big day at the state Capitol, building on years of work in government advocacy.
This spring, nonprofit fundraising professionals will hold about 60 meetings with state legislators and their staffs to educate them about the causes they represent and the fact that fundraising is a profession, not just work performed by volunteers. Organized by the Austin chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Texas Legislative Action Day on March 30 is among the first of its kind in the country, said organizers.
“Nonprofits have always been obligated to raise the awareness of the issues and populations we serve,” said professional fundraiser Erica Ekwurzel of CivicAIM, who helped launch the event during the 2013 session. “But now our goal is to educate our legislators.”
“We want to be a resource for legislators and we want them to understand the opportunities and the limits of philanthropy.”
In addition to educating legislators about issues like healthcare, education, child welfare and the environment, the fundraising professionals will share the message that their work is guided by legal and ethical standards.
Amy Jackson, development director for Caritas of Austin, said, “For example, having professional fundraising ethics means that we can assure donors that their dollars are spent according to their wishes, that we have systems in place to track the funds and that we measure not just outputs like how many people were served, but also outcomes. We show people where their dollars made a difference.”
While the Austin chapter of AFP leads the event, it draws members from 10 other AFP chapters across the state. The Austin fundraiser group was the first in the country to organize such a day of legislator visits, which now take place in a dozen other capitols across the country.
This year, nonprofits will also urge legislators to consider partnering with nonprofits to solve social problems systemically rather than just rely on philanthropy as a temporary fix.
“Traditional philanthropy is not the only answer to addressing social issues that carry very big price tags,” said Jackson. “Without leadership from a systemic standpoint, things cannot change. So it’s not just the dollars. It’s really up to partnerships among nonprofits, government and business to figure out a way to make this change happen.”
Because there are limits to how much time and money nonprofits can spend on lobbying and advocacy, Jackson said volunteer advocates are always a welcome addition to their work. “Sometimes when they hear from a volunteer, that can be a more powerful message,” she said. “It helps remind legislators that there are constituents who support this work and that they have a voice, too.”
PHOTO: Ellen Arnold of Arnold Public Affairs prepping professional fundraisers before their meetings with legislators in 2013. Photo by Erica Ekwurzel.
NOTE: This article is published through a partnership with the Austin American-Statesman, which first published this story on Feb. 19, 2017.