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Mobilizing Power During an Election Year

Our staff from the Healthcare Foundation Northern Sonoma County joined NCG’s 2023 Power-Building cohort to learn how to show up as better advocates for policy changes on behalf of our grantees and their clients. Our goals were to learn more about IRS rules governing public charity C3s doing C4 and C4-aligned funding, and to bring what we learn to our many nonprofit colleagues in Sonoma County who are hungry to engage in more advocacy, but unclear on how to move forward. There are roughly 3,000 nonprofits in Sonoma County. We believe that only by aligning and harnessing our collective resources around key issues that affect our most marginalized residents can we, as a sector, build the power necessary for real change.

The Healthcare Foundation team was fortunate to have been paired with the team from the San Francisco Foundation, a leader in policy advocacy in the Bay Area. Our partners at SFF really understand how policy decisions have the power to advance equity beyond direct grant-making. While our Healthcare Foundation’s annual budget is under $2M, we maximize our limited resources in several ways: in deep partnership with multiple grassroots organizations, we generate revenue from larger institutions for multi-year health equity initiatives; and we strategically use various media to advance health equity to an audience beyond our local donor base and grantees. While our “service area” is regional, our goals are universal.

Our small group, led by Jack Mahoney, Senior Director of Community Action at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, helped us focus on what we could actually accomplish in five months. While SFF and other funders in the Power Building cohort are significantly ahead of us in their plans to fund C4s or start their own C4s, the cohort emboldened us to take some important first steps. They may seem modest, but they have already changed the conversation and the culture at the Healthcare Foundation around advocacy. These steps included:

  • Talking about advocacy and what we were learning at the NCG Power Building Cohort at every board meeting
  • Regularly forwarding to the Healthcare Foundation Board articles from NCG, BoardSource and other resources about the importance of board engagement in advocacy
  • Discussing our current Advocacy Policy with the board
  • Sharing SFF Policy Request Guidelines and SVCF Engaging in Public Policy with board attorneys as examples for developing our own
  • Discussing our plan to increase advocacy with all major funders – institutional and individual
  • Performing a survey with board and key stakeholders on issues

As a result of these efforts, at our October 2023 board retreat and strategic planning session, advocacy was a topic many board members brought up on their own. 

The second big goal was to bring a free, in-person advocacy workshop to Sonoma County for all nonprofit leaders interested in becoming more engaged in advocacy. A planning group has formed and we are working with Bolder Advocacy to host an event in late February. The first part of the day will be Advocacy 101; the second part will include a discussion of how local nonprofit organizations are aligning and organizing around key issues. Between now and then, the planning group is out in the community and talking with colleagues around the state to identify top issues to consider aligning around in 2024.

We are deeply thankful to NCG’s Democracy and Movement-building team for creating the Power-Building learning cohort. Our participation has given us the strength and knowledge we need to help lift the voices of our nonprofit colleagues in Sonoma County and to meet the significant challenges within an election year.

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