Nonprofit Advocacy and Ambassadorship

BoardSource strongly encourages boards and board members to lead their organizations toward greater engagement in advocacy and to play a personal role in advancing their missions through ambassadorship.

What is Advocacy and Ambassadorship?

While similar, advocacy and ambassadorship have small points of differentiation. Ambassadorship typically involves sharing your organization’s mission using your platforms, whether that’s in person or online, as a representative for that nonprofit. Advocacy, likewise, involves using one’s voice to support an organization, but centers around specific causes or policies that you want to create or change to further your nonprofit’s mission.

Being an advocate or an ambassador is directly connected to each board member’s fundamental responsibility to champion the organization’s work, and these can be accomplished in a variety of ways:

  • Use your sphere of influence to promote your nonprofit’s mission
  • Request and rally changes needed to further your organization’s cause
  • Support and defend your nonprofit’s message publically
  • Participate in legal lobbying and political activity to gather necessary resources or support for your organization’s purpose

There are many ways to carry the responsibility to be an advocate and ambassador, and every small act can make a lasting impact.

The Importance of Advocacy and Ambassadorship

Active involvement and initiative are keys to both advocacy and ambassadorship, both of which help ensure that your organization isn’t missing opportunities to advance its mission. In fact, Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits revealed that the most effective organizations are actively engaging in advocacy as a fundamental strategy for greater impact.

Board members are uniquely positioned to be successful advocates and ambassadors for their missions. As business leaders, community volunteers, philanthropists, and opinion leaders, they have the connections, confidence, and respect needed to speak up on behalf of their organizations, and those served by them, when policy decisions are being made that might affect an organization’s ability to achieve its mission.

Social sector organizations should not ignore the policy environment in which they operate. Opportunities to move your mission forward through policy change represent an important strategy for impact. And, on the flip side, proposed decisions that could negatively impact your organization’s work and stakeholders can represent a significant threat to your mission.

Despite these understandings about the impact of this work — according to BoardSource’s Leading with Intent: National Index of Nonprofit Board Practices — only 52 percent of organizations report that their board members are actively involved in advocating for their missions, and many organizations aren’t advocating at all, leaving a gap between their current impact and what is possible.

Bridging the Gap

The most effective nonprofits recognize that successful advocacy and ambassadorship simply means using our voices as committed and informed champions for our missions. To show how strongly we believe in the power of these key roles, BoardSource added a new expectation in the most recent edition of Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards and co-launched the Stand for Your Mission campaign in 2014, which provides guides to both foundational and nonprofit advocacy discussions.

All board leaders should be inspired to “stand for their missions” through active engagement as advocates and ambassadors. Organizations should fully leverage the potential for impact through advocacy. Use the resources below to ensure that you understand the laws surrounding nonprofit advocacy, lobbying, and political activity so you can support your organization’s mission passionately and ethically. 

  Learn How to Stand for Your Mission

 Explore the Legal Limits of Advocacy

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Guides, Tools, Templates, and Infographics


Written Resources

All 101-level topical resources listed below are available publicly. BoardSource members have access to 101, 201, and 301- level resources. Don’t forget to visit the BoardSource store for more resources and training on this topic.

501(h) Lobbying Election

201| Members-only resource. In 1976, the IRS created the 501(h) lobbying election for public charities that want to lobby. Its purpose is to allow charities more leeway with their lobbying activities, establish clear guidelines, and, in general, dissipate the confusion concerning the legality of lobbying by public charities. 501(h) election makes sense for 501(c)(3) organizations that find lobbying essential to fulfilling their mission.

Advocacy, Lobbying, and Political Activities

201| Members only resource. Advocacy, lobbying, and political activity by nonprofits often are misunderstood. This outline defines the terms and the legal limits for lobbying for nonprofit organizations.

Nonprofit Political Organizations

201| Members only resource. Normally, nonprofit organizations are not allowed to participate in partisan political activities. However, one group of nonprofits may have a purely political mission: Section 527 organizations.

Political Activity and Public Charities

101| Community resource. Lobbying and political activity are easily confused. It is vital for public charities (501(c)(3)s) to know the difference.

Public Policy Committee Charter

201| Members only resource. Are you forming a new public policy committee? It will need a charter. Here’s a sample public policy committee charter to help.

What is Advocacy?

101| Community resource. Advocacy helps nonprofits advance their mission, increase their funding sources, and solve community and societal problems. Advocacy allows nonprofits to advance the issues they care about and helps bring about lasting change for the people and communities they serve.