Public Policy & Take Action Toolkit

Federal and state public policy impacts all nonprofits. Advocacy is an important means to make a difference for our organizations, mission, and those we serve.

Common Good Vermont is part of the National Council of Nonprofits advocating on behalf of a nonprofits locally and federally.

Read: Nonprofit Public Policy Agenda

 

Introduction to Public Policy & Advocacy in Vermont

The Vermont General Assembly is the state legislature of Vermont. The Legislature is formally known as the “General Assembly,” but the title of “Legislature” is commonly used, including by the body itself. The Legislature is a bicameral assembly, consisting of the 150-member Vermont House of Representatives and the 30-member Vermont State Senate.

Members of the House are elected by single and two-member districts. 66 districts choose one member, and 42 choose two, with the term of service being two years. The Senate includes 30 Senators, elected by 13 multi-member districts.

A complete list of legislators, their Committees and Calendar of activities and public hearings can be found at the Vermont Legislative website. http://www.leg.state.vt.us/

In 2021, the Legislature is expected to focus on COVID-19 and related issues. You can follow the introduction of bills here.

COVID-19 and Nonprofit Advocacy:

Did your organization apply for the federal Payroll Protection Program or Vermont’s Economic Recovery Grants? If so, your organization may have benefited from organizations advocating on behalf of the sector’s needs. From advocating for legislation to amendments and guidelines for grantmaking, advocacy was and is essential as we respond to COVID-19. For example, testimony from organizations like yours gave voice how COVID-19 has impacted nonprofits and how lawmakers could support nonprofits.

 

 

Advocacy vs. Lobbying

True or false? “Nonprofits cannot advocate!” False. Nonprofits can, and should, inform and educate lawmakers around issues impacting their missions.

 

Most people think that advocacy and lobbying are synonymous. Lobbying is a form of advocacy, but there are so many more ways to advocate for your nonprofit’s mission. It all begins with the simple question of why your nonprofit exists. Does it exist to file forms with the IRS every year? Or to solve a problem in your community?

Curious about the difference between lobbying and advocacy? Watch this video: 

Is your organization a 501(c)(3) interested in lobbying? Watch the basics.

 

Everyday Advocacy

Advocacy involves “solving problems.” Who can do it? Everyone, especially board members who can Stand For Your Mission. This is particularly true for Vermont!

We refer to our State House (pictured above) as the People’s House. The State House is a hub of activity year-round and visitors are always welcome (pending COVID-19 restrictions). Policymakers are accessible in a way that they are not in other states (Tip: Visit the State House in legislative session to have lunch, take a tour, and meet and say hello to our state leaders)!

Everyday advocacy works. It’s easy. It’s fun. And it’s effective in advancing a nonprofit’s mission. We see proof every day when we drive safely along roads with painted divided lines, as we drink purer water and breathe cleaner air, and in countless other ways, thanks to nonprofits that advanced their missions through advocacy.

Throughout our nation’s history, advocacy by nonprofit organizations has led to fundamental reforms that have saved and improved lives and strengthened communities. At all levels of public and private decision making, nonprofits have made a positive difference through everyday advocacy.  The tendency to measure legislative “success” by simply counting the number of good bills passed and bad bills defeated can overlook other invaluable victories.

Case Study: This Florida story reminds us that true legislative success can come in a variety of shapes and forms, including nonprofits becoming friends with policymakers. Read Case Study “Making Friends – Before They Are Needed: ‘It’s Hard to Say ‘No’ to a Friend.’

 

 

Proof that it is legal:

Arguably, the most important public policies we have in the United States have come from nonprofit organizations lobbying for their causes…. These achievements may be largely attributed to the strong leadership of executive directors and board members who knew that direct service alone would not change the flawed or missing public policies that contributed to the problems their organizations were trying to alleviate. –David F. Arons, in Nonprofit Governance and Management

Read the laws here to see for yourself how the U.S. Constitution, Congress, and the IRS have protected the rights of nonprofits to engage in advocacy and legislative lobbying. See the confirmations from informed lawyers, accountants, and others that you have the legal right to advocate to advance your nonprofit’s mission. And explore the easy ways to comply and protect your rights.

  • Read Federal Law Protects Nonprofit AdvocacyNonprofit advocacy and lobbying are perfectly legal. But don’t feel like you have to believe us – read for yourself how the U.S. Constitution, Congress, and the IRS have protected the rights of nonprofits to engage in advocacy and legislative lobbying.
  • Read The Free & Easy 501(h) ElectionSometimes called the best, easiest, and cheapest insurance in America, this little known form can simplify life for most 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofits advancing their missions through advocacy.
  • Read Benefits of Filing the 501(h) ElectionFor most charitable nonprofits, electing the expenditure test by filing Form 5768 will provide many benefits, including that it’s easier and safer.
  • Review IRS Publication 4421: ​Compliance Guide for 501(c)(3) Public Charities (Pages 4-8)

 

During Legislative Session:

Do you have an opinion on Legislation under consideration this legislative session?  If you are interested in testifying and/or visiting a Committee (please note 2021 lists are not yet available):

  • Explore https://legislature.vermont.gov
  • Review Bills that have been Introduced when the session starts: https://legislature.vermont.gov/bill/search/2020
  • Check the list of Standing Committees to determine the name of the Chair or Clerk at http://legislature.vermont.gov/committee/list/2020
  • Check their Calendar to find out what will be discussed when you are there (typically published the Friday before and subject to change): http://legislature.vermont.gov/home/noteworthy/legislative-schedule/
  • In the meantime, reach out to the Committee Chair or Clerk and let them know that you are interested in speaking with them!

Next Steps:

Visit Commongoodvt.org to stay informed about key sector issues and potential legislation! While our annual Nonprofit Legislative Day is on hold due to COVID-19, we regularly post to our website, Vermont Nonprofit News enewsletter, and social accounts when bills relevant to nonprofits are considered. We also offer regular advocacy training with Action Circles.

 

Vermont Nonprofit Day

*Plans Vermont Nonprofit Day are currently on hold due to COVID-19. In the meantime, Common Good VT continues to advocate on behalf of Vermont’s nonprofit sector locally and federally. We provide regular policy updates and information to the sector.*

Vermont Nonprofit Day provides a unique opportunity for nonprofit organizations, activists and community leaders from across our state to unify and raise awareness about the crucial role nonprofits play in supporting communities, strengthening our economy and making Vermont a better place to live.

Vermont Nonprofit Day is a unique opportunity to:

  • Educate lawmakers and state leaders about the strength and value of Vermont’s nonprofit sector and learn why your work matters.
  • Learn advocacy best practices from experienced lobbyists, Legislators and each other.
  • Network with nonprofit colleagues, funders, legislative staffs and the most connected and influential people in the state.

Here are some useful resources to help you make the most of your advocacy efforts this session. 

1. Plan Ahead Virtually

Reach out to your legislators, sit in on virtual Committee meetings or informative panels, and seek out opportunities to network with policymakers. 


2.
Make contact with your legislators.

Reach out to your the Legislators from your home district or those with an influence on issues you care about.  Ask to schedule a virtual get together. Check the Legislative Directory to find them. See the Tips for Contacting Your Legislators, below.

4. Sign-up to testify on a bill that concerns you.

Do you have an opinion on Legislation under consideration? Get your name, organization and cause on the legislative radar.  If you are interested in testifying and/or visiting a Committee:

5. Share Your Voice! 

Demonstrate to lawmakers, the press and the public that the nonprofit sector is strong and united. Below are strategies for raising awareness:

  •  Tell colleagues, volunteers, funders and friends about Nonprofit issues! 
  •  Get Busy on Social Media! Follow and tag us on social media www.facebook.com/CommonGoodVT.org, follow twitter.com/commongoodvt  and use the Twitter hashtag #npvt and #vtleg to expand your virtual reach. 
  • Send a press release or Write an Op-Ed notifying the media on the issue you are advocating on and the importance of Vermont’s nonprofit sector! Here is a list of VT MEDIA sources for you to use. Don’t forget to include your local papers, radio stations and public access channels. It all helps to spread the word!

6. Follow these quick tips for reaching out to your legislators.

a. Sample Phone Call Script

Hello Representative/Senator NAME,

I’m calling in honor of Vermont’s nonprofit sector, to discuss upcoming legislation impacting my nonprofit.  I would like to set up a virtual meeting or call with you at your earliest convenience. 

b. Email Template

Dear (Representative/Senator) NAME,

I’ll be in the State House from ___ to ____ and I would love to set up a time to meet with you to share [ORG NAME’s] legislative concerns 2021, which include [key policy issues]. I will follow up with a phone call to see if we can choose a specific meeting time.

I am [NAME], [TITLE] at [ORG] and we are raise awareness on key issues impacting nonprofits this session. Our sector provides deep contributions nonprofits make to Vermont’s economy and quality of life, and we are proud to be a part of this important sector.

I would love to set up a time to meet with you to share [ORG NAME’s] goals for 2021, which include [GOALS]. I will follow up with a phone call to see if we can choose a specific meeting time.

Vermont’s nonprofit sector accounts for $6.5 billion in revenue of the state of Vermont. Providing a wide variety of services and essential programs, Vermont nonprofits are absolutely vital to our all of our well being. The nonprofit sector is a huge contributor to the economy, making up  approximately 20% of Vermont’s Gross State Product.  We are asking for your support in drafting legislation that supports nonprofits and those we serve during and after COVID-19. 

Thank you for your time and for your service to the State of Vermont!

Sincerely, NAME | TITLE/ORGANIZATION | PHONE | EMAIL

c. Tips for Legislator Virtual Call or Meeting

  • Start on time. Be prepared, and polite.
  • Start by concisely introducing your organization. Include the following information: Who you are/ What your organization does/ What you need from your legislator/ A reference to the fact sheet you have prepared
  • If they are at your facility, consider arranging a short activity that will showcase the work of your organization and allow your legislator to see your staff or volunteers in action.
  • Don’t attack the legislator for his/her record on your issue(s), and don’t disparage government or politics.
  • Don’t use technical terms or acronyms, unless you are certain that your legislator will understand them.
  •  If you don’t know the answer to a question, say you’ll find out and get back to him/her – and follow through.
  • Before they leave, ask how you can be of help to them. 
  • Thank thank for their time and support.