More than two-fifths (43%) of Indiana nonprofits engaged in advocacy and/or public education activities in 2017, according to a new report from Indiana University. Indiana Nonprofits: Advocacy and Political Activity – Practices and Challenges uses data from a 2017 survey (the most recent data available) of 1,036 nonprofits that was conducted by the Indiana Nonprofits Project.
The report examines six key questions about the extent and nature of advocacy and political activity among Indiana nonprofits – whether they engage in advocacy and/or public education activities, whether they focus on particular issues or interests of particular groups when seeking to influence the general public or policy makers, what kinds of advocacy activities they engage in most frequently, how many organizational resources they devote to it, how dedicated their efforts are, and how challenging they find it to be.
“Engaging in advocacy, political activity, or public education efforts enables many nonprofits, including charities involved in direct services, to advance their missions. For other nonprofits, advocacy is in fact their primary mission,” notes Kirsten Grønbjerg, Ph.D., director of the Indiana Nonprofits Project. “However, while a large percentage are engaged in various advocacy activities, particularly if they have been impacted by public policies, their involvement appears to be relative shallow,” she adds.
Thus, relatively few Indiana nonprofits (between 5% and 23%) report engaging in certain general advocacy activities frequently or almost all the time, depending on the activity involved. Even smaller percentages (between 2% and 10%) are similarly engaged in various grassroots advocacy activities.
In addition, relatively few Indiana nonprofits (14%) appear to have dedicated advocacy efforts, such as working with a registered lobbyist or reporting the scope of their advocacy activities to the IRS, by taking the so-called “H-election.” Similarly, few organizations report devoting most or all of their volunteer time, staff time or financial resources to advocacy, with the highest value being 10% of nonprofits who devote most or almost all of their volunteer time to advocacy.
Most Indiana nonprofits that engage in advocacy direct their efforts towards the general public rather than policy makers when advocating for specific groups (65% vs. 33% respectively) or on particular issues (63% vs. 38%). The report shows that numerous explanatory factors, both advocacy-related (e.g., impacted by policy changes) and control variables (e.g., major field of activity, organization size, formalization, funding mix), help account for whether and how Indiana nonprofits engage in advocacy and/or public education activities.
“Nonprofit motivations to engage in advocacy may have been more complex in the years since the survey was conducted,” Grønbjerg notes. For example, concerns about racial justice and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic are likely to have encouraged nonprofits to make their voices heard on a variety of key issues faced by their constituencies. At the same time, political discords and a tense political climate may have raised concerns about getting caught in the crosshairs.
About the briefing
This briefing is the fifth in a series of reports from the Indiana Nonprofit Survey, Round III produced by the Indiana Nonprofit Sector: Scope and Community Dimensions project, designed to inform local community leaders and policymakers. The analysis a joint effort of the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs and the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, both at Indiana University. The briefing’s co-authors are the director of this project Kirsten Grønbjerg and IU alumnus Noah Betman, with the assistance of Payton Goodman and Brittany K. Kurt, also IU alumni.
About the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs
The O’Neill School is a world leader in public and environmental affairs and is the largest school of public administration and public policy in the United States. In the 2021, “Best Graduate Public Affairs Programs” by U.S. News & World Report, the O’Neill School ranks first in the country. Four of its specialty programs are ranked in the top-five listings, including nonprofit management, ranked first.
About the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy
The Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IUPUI is dedicated to improving philanthropy to improve the world by training and empowering students and professionals to be innovators and leaders who create positive and lasting change. The school offers a comprehensive approach to philanthropy through its undergraduate, graduate, certificate and professional development programs, its research and international programs and through The Fund Raising School, Lake Institute on Faith & Giving, the Mays Family Institute on Diverse Philanthropy and the Women’s Philanthropy Institute. Follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram and “Like” us on Facebook.