August 16th, 2012
Two staffers at a Kentucky foundation report on a webinar held in July to address this important question.
Today, grantmakers and some government agencies are encouraging public health departments and nonprofit health promotion organizations to “advocate for policy change,” but the line between permitted advocacy and prohibited lobbying is often unclear. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently issued guidance regarding how federal grantees can use their funding to promote programs, systems, and policies that support healthy individuals and communities, and since 2005, health funders have had a resource to help identify advocacy skills. At the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, we are working to make the line between advocacy and lobbying a little brighter and clearer and to provide added training on advocacy skills.
The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky (the legacy foundation resulting from the conversion of the statewide Blue Cross plan in Kentucky to a for-profit entity) is a nonprofit philanthropic organization that invests in communities and informs health policy through grant making, research, and education. With a mission to address the unmet health care needs of Kentuckians, the foundation is committed to policy work that can improve access to care, reduce health risks and disparities, and promote health equity. We focus on issues and conditions that present major challenges to the health of the people in Kentucky, and we seek local solutions to these challenges. As a “learning organization,” we are committed to evaluating the impact of the work that we fund.
As part of its mission, the foundation provides funding and technical assistance to community groups that are working to improve the health of Kentuckians. Through these efforts, an army of advocates is emerging, helping to give voice to populations and communities not often heard in the policy debate. To support this work, the foundation has developed a series of webinars and in-person workshops. The series, titled Health for a Change, is free and open to the public. The target audience is staffers of organizations that seek to be effective health policy advocates.
The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky’s July 11 webinar—Advocacy? Lobbying? Know the Difference!—was conducted by Nayantara Mehta, senior counsel for the Alliance for Justice’s Bolder Advocacy initiative. Mehta cited the situation that many advocates face as they seek to transform health policies and, at the same time, sustain their operations with philanthropic and government grants. Because federal funding and many foundation grants prohibit lobbying, advocates must develop messages and activities that do not violate these terms. Mehta demonstrated how advocates can carefully craft messages that encourage action on a policy issue without disobeying the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) lobbying rules or those of a funder’s contract—by omitting any direct instruction to “call your legislator” about a specific bill.
Moreover, attendees learned the benefits of claiming IRS “election H,” which gives clear guidance on calculating the amount of, and setting a clear cap on, lobbying, rather than the earlier, vaguer standard of holding lobbying to an “insubstantial amount” of a nonprofit’s work. This election, made anytime during the tax year, identifies the maximum percentage of an organization’s budget (based on its overall resources) that can be spent on lobbying activities and is reported annually on a nonprofit’s IRS form 990 or 990PF.
During a post-webinar question and answer period, attendees received clarification about limits on advocacy by churches, universities, and government employees, and Alliance for Justice offered follow-up assistance via phone or email for webinar attendees.
Other topics in the Health for a Change series include webinars on program sustainability, use of the CDC’s Community Guide (a publication that discusses “what works to improve public health”), and grant writing, as well as workshops on building an advocacy campaign and evaluating an organization’s advocacy efforts.
To view the “Advocacy? Lobbying?” event, go here.
Series webinars are archived on the foundation’s website.
The next webinar, “How to Keep Your Efforts Going When the Funding Ends: A Practical Path to Sustainability,” will take place on August 29 and will explore ways to identify projected funding needs when a grant concludes and strategies for continuing programming and maintaining organizational capacity without those resources.
This is the second year that the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky has offered the Health for a Change series. It will continue in 2013, under the foundation’s Promoting Responsive Health Policy initiative, as a means to continue to level the policy playing field and bring underrepresented voices into crucial health policy conversations.
To learn more about the Health for a Change series and the foundation’s work on promoting responsive health policy, contact Susan Zepeda, president and CEO of the foundation (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Joan Buchar, senior program officer and the series’ lead designer (email@example.com), or visit the foundation’s website at www.healthy-ky.org.
See the foundation’s grant guidelines here.
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