Public Policy & Advocacy: Taking the Extra Step as a Donor

Written by United Way

March 26, 2019

Give. Advocate. Volunteer. These three words are a core piece of United Way’s message in mobilizing our community to create positive change across Lucas, Wood and Ottawa County.

As a United Way donor, you understand what it means to “give” and to donate your monetary earnings to a special cause. “Volunteer” is a word that also doesn’t create much confusion: contributing your time and skills to keep community work moving forward. But, “advocate…” that word gives us pause.

What does it mean to be an advocate for local health, financial stability and education programming?

It’s important to know the power you hold as a donor. We all have a voice and the ability to influence the systems in which struggling individuals, families and children must navigate to live a happy, successful life. You can refine and improve health and human services through personal assistance and donations. But, are you overlooking the important legal and legislative policies that can completely unravel, or further strengthen, the community programs you support?

What does advocacy mean to United Way and how can we help you use it to improve the causes you are passionate about?

At United Way, when we say “advocate,” we mean… lend us your voice to influence policy and help uplift the services that are indeed working and changing lives.

We do this by writing letters, sending emails, hosting meetings with elected officials and sharing what issues matter to our partners and those we help serve.

And we get it, public policy can seem like a really complicated and confusing space… because, well, it is (if we’re going to be honest). Usually at United Way we hear, “Well, I’m not really interested in policy and advocacy, because I’m not a political person.” Our reply is: “That’s great, because we aren’t political either!”

United Way’s golden rule is that ‘politics’ do not equal ‘policy.’

Being a certified 501(c)(3) nonprofit, the IRS requires that tax-exempt institutions, like United Way, remain nonpartisan. Which means, “free from any political affiliations and removing political biases, one-sidedness or non-objective affiliations.” Being nonpartisan is something we’re proud of; it’s a responsible frame-of-mind as a nonprofit entity.

This also means that we are completely issue-focused. We look at legislation and policies for what they accomplish and how they positively serve our community. Therefore, you may see our volunteers supporting ballot issues, levies or pieces of legislation. However, you will never see us endorsing political candidates, political parties or partisan initiatives. This approach has allowed United Way as a worldwide system to work with numerous legislators and reach across the aisle to get policy work done.

Our greatest hurdle at United Way is in removing the notion of “politics” around education, financial stability and health – our three core focus areas at United Way. As an example, when we politicize education in our community – we don’t suffer, our children do.

“Advocacy” is that extra step you can take as a donor.

You can change lives through donations and volunteerism, but, you can also change lives by advocating for policies.

Your advocacy work is vital to building community need awareness, creating advocacy coalitions and influencing policy thinkers and legislators. And, this work is an important, and often overlooked, piece of the nonprofit industry.

As a new or reoccurring donor, we can assume that the community investments United Way has, and is making, are actions you’re proud to support. Yet, to ensure the structures our community partners have built and continue to build, at times, require more than a donation, more than physical labor. We need your voice and passion to make Lucas, Wood and Ottawa County a better place for all through advocacy and policy-centered action.

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