Advancing Microbusiness Through Advocacy

May 30, 2018

More than 600 small business advisors, nonprofit leaders, and microfinance practitioners descended upon Detroit, Michigan for AEO’s 2018 National Microbusiness Conference this month. With a goal of learning and collaborating to improve the microbusiness ecosystem in our country, they highlighted how a path of inclusion, innovation, and investment can move Main Street forward.


As AEO’s policy team, we were on hand to discuss how AEO members can advance the cause of microbusiness through advocacy, with expert guests such as Roberto Barragan, AEO Board member and Principal of Aquaria Funding Solutions and Jennifer Goulet, President & CEO of Creative Many Michigan. We set out to highlight the rules around lobbying and how you can be successful with your advocacy efforts.


First, let’s dispel the myth that nonprofit organizations cannot engage in advocacy or lobbying. In fact, non-profits, including 501(c)3 organizations, play a crucial role in advocating for policy. Sharing reports, research, surveys, or client stories with policymakers are all within your purview as a nonprofit organization and will not impact your tax status. IRS guidelines come into play when that advocacy turns into lobbying for a specific piece of legislation or funding for a program or agency.  


If you would like to promote or oppose specific legislation and engage your stakeholders in those efforts, then your 501(c)3 organization must file an IRS form 5768 identifying they will be participating in lobbying activities and following the rules laid out in the section 501(h) election for reporting lobbying expenditures on your Form 990. To ensure you can maintain your tax status while lobbying, the IRS has an expenditure test which indicates how much you may spend on lobbying expenses based on your organization’s budget. To learn more, please visit the following resources:



We know as a nonprofit organization you often must accomplish many goals with few resources. Even if your financial and staff resources are stretched thin, it is still important to make advocacy part of your organizational goals. 


Here are some tips on how to translate good intention into effective advocacy:


1)   Do Your Homework


With limited resources, it is important you do your homework to find out who are the key policymakers on the local, state or national level that have decision making power to impact an issue, a piece of legislation or a program that is important to your organization. Develop a good target list of lawmakers and focus your resources on learning about these key individuals – their past positions, any votes on the issue/program of importance and find out about their priorities. If you need an extra set of hands to do some research for you, consider finding an intern with issue expertise and/or a political science background to assist you. If you have the financial resources, look into contracting with a government affairs professional or firm that can do this leg work for you, assist with developing your policy priorities and build relationships with key lawmakers.


2)   Build Your Case


Facts and heart are two critical components to building your case for an issue or specific legislation. Ensuring you have data and research that can support your position, as well as highlight the impact that the policymaker’s decision will have on your constituency or sector is vital information. Incorporating testimonials from individuals or businesses that are impacted by the issue, provides that emotional appeal that puts a face on the matter at hand. Together, these help you make a powerful case to lawmakers and your stakeholders. 


3)   Find a Champion


Seek out a policymaker that supports your cause and develop a relationship with him/her to champion your issue from the inside. This will allow you to have an expert providing you with insight on who to reach out to, how to adjust your messaging, and guidance on timing of efforts. In addition, the policymaker can leverage his/her relationships to encourage support for your policy position.


4)   Engage Supporters


Educate your network on the issues of importance to your organization and engage them in your advocacy activities. Ask them to contact key legislators and provide them with talking points or pre-written letters.  


To assist in amplifying your message, reach out to other organizations that support your policy position and build a coalition of supporters. Coalitions can be an effective tool at coalescing support around key legislation and can help lighten the workload by engaging other organizations and their resources in your advocacy efforts. Remember, there is strength in numbers.


5)   Be Patient but Tenacious


The wheels of change often move slowly and may require many years of educating and advocating on an issue. It is important that you be patient but tenacious in your efforts. The goal should be to position your organization as a thought leader and key influencer on the issues that are important to your stakeholders. This will ensure, in time, that policymakers and their staff reach out to you for feedback on matters before decisions are made. If you develop these types of relationships, you’ll have an opportunity to take a proactive approach to advocacy.


Getting involved in advocacy often is not a choice for nonprofit organizations but an imperative. With funding for important programs continuously on the chopping block and grant programs being eliminated or redefined, as well as lawmakers becoming more and more challenged with doing their job to fund local, state and the federal agencies, it is vital that organizations like yours take action to empower the communities they serve. 



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