Nonprofits play crucial role in public policy decisions˜
by Andrea McManus
Recently, the issue of nonprofit organizations being able to lobby the government has come under some criticism, with cries for reducing how much they can dialogue with the government or even eliminating their ability to do so altogether.
Such proposals fail to see the importance and wisdom of nonprofits in the government process. The truth is, only a small percentage of nonprofits actually engage in advocacy. More, not fewer, should be involved in this process, helping the government to develop sound and balanced public policy while inspiring more Canadians to get involved in our civic process.
When government is considering important public policy decisions, it needs the most accurate, precise and unbiased data available. One of the best sources of such information is nonprofits
Charities know first-hand the intricacies of each issue because they’ve been providing programs and service for years. They talk with people who depend on these services and have conducted research about the details of their cause. And they, and the causes they serve, feel the impact when public policy decisions are reached without sufficient information and perspective.
Our leaders and legislators need the non-partisan expertise that charities can provide. Charities and associations are by nature not-for-profit. They don’t exist to make money or provide revenue to shareholders. They exist only to advance their cause and serve the community and the needs of Canadians. Government needs the unique information and perspective that charities and associations can provide.
But the most powerful aspect of lobbying by nonprofits is their ability to inspire individual Canadians to action by participating in our public policy and government processes.
One of the great strengths of our country is the capacity of each Canadian to get involved in our civic process and advocate for various causes. Nonprofits strengthen our civic tradition of participation by providing information on causes and issues that citizens might not normally be aware of through traditional news and media. They bring people together, strengthening connections and making individuals part of a larger community, and provide easy ways for them to get involved.
When people unite under the banner of a particular cause and are inspired to participate, the impact can be staggering. Child labor laws, medical research into diseases, clean air and water regulations, drunk driving laws—all of these initiatives and more have been advanced by millions of Canadians who have participated in public education and lobbying campaigns led by nonprofits. They learn about an issue, participate in their government and help improve their communities through their collective action.
Who would argue against volunteerism and Canadians needing to be more involved in our public policy decisions?
Nonprofits provide a critical pathway for Canadians to participate while providing legislators and regulators important information and perspectives they might not normally receive. More charities, not fewer, should be engaging with our government within the current limits—and our society would be a lot better for it.
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Canada Issues: March 2004 Public Policy Update
U.S. Federal Issues: February 2004 Public Policy Update