New Research from Independent Sector Explores Significant Drop in Nonprofit Advocacy

July 20, 2023

Nonprofits have historically played a crucial role in promoting democracy and driving systems change through advocacy and public engagement. However, over the past two decades, there has been a decline in nonprofit involvement in these critical activities, despite the increasing need for their impact.

A new research report by Independent Sector — “The Retreat of Influence: Exploring the Decline of Nonprofit Advocacy and Public Engagement” — examines this trend. The study highlights several key findings, including a significant drop in the proportion of nonprofits engaged in advocacy and lobbying compared to 20 years ago. Mission alignment emerges as a major determinant of nonprofit involvement in advocacy efforts.

The study points to a notable decline in nonprofits’ awareness of the advocacy activities they are legally allowed to undertake. Only 13% of nonprofits engage in nonpartisan activities aimed at encouraging voter participation, despite being more effective at mobilizing people across the political spectrum to vote.

Collaborative groups play a positive role in encouraging nonprofit advocacy and are associated with higher advocacy rates. On the equity front, while the majority of nonprofits have diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) statements, only 36% are actively engaged in policy activities that aim to create more equitable systems.

“This study shows us, with a retreat from policy advocacy or from nonpartisan voter engagement, the nonprofit sector leaves an enormous amount of power on the table,” said Dr. Akilah Watkins, Independent Sector’s president and CEO. “That’s power that can drive change for the communities we serve.”

This new research sheds light on the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for nonprofit organizations to reclaim their influential role in shaping a better society.

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