Have you recently asked a policy maker for something that would make a positive difference in your community? The Washington State Community Action Partnership (WSCAP) did just that when they decided to be bold in advocating for a rural home rehabilitation fund. In return they were granted millions of dollars and Senate Bill 5647 received incredible bi-partisan support.
Merritt Mount, Executive Director of WSCAP, explains how historically their organization had flown under the radar in the advocacy arena. Community Action Agencies, which make up the partnership’s network, work to reduce poverty and provide emergency services. Like many nonprofits, they were grateful for the funding they did receive and did not want to rock the boat. A mindset change brought about the beginning of their boldness. Mount explains that they decided to “ask for what we need, for what our clients need.”
Weatherization and Rural Home Rehabilitation
Weatherization is already a service that Washington communities depend on—it lowers energy costs for those living in poverty, increases livability and health for the residents, and improves the housing stock that already exists. The Weatherization Plus Health program incorporates improvements that combat asthma, further supporting the health of vulnerable populations and breaking the cycle of poverty by keeping children in school. The problem: people in rural areas often were not eligible for these services because their homes were in such desperate need of repair before they could be insulated properly.
WSCAP knew that rural communities were too often overlooked by government funding. They came up with a plan for a revolving loan fund that agencies grant to rural clients for home improvements, to be repaid whenever the house sells. The fund would allow clients to receive weatherization assistance and improve Washington State housing stock in perpetuity. Advocating to and educating officials and providers on the importance of this service became a priority. Legislators also wanted to create and support vibrant Washington communities and Senate Bill 5647 passed with 22 co-sponsors.
Advocacy Advice to Nonprofits
- Get the ears of people by being clear and bold. One of the greatest inhibitors of nonprofits is that they are scared to advocate because they are afraid to break the law. You can still promote your mission without backing a political candidate. Instead, inform and educate our policy makers and purse string holders.
- “The legislators that represent us are there to partner with us.” Mount advises to sit down with legislators and talk about needs of their constituency.
- It is essential to speak up and be the voice of those you serve. Raise the flag to help policy makers know what is happening. “They are just like you and me, they can’t know everything, so it’s incumbent on us to increase their awareness about where the struggles are.”
- Mobilize your board members. They can get the ears of legislatures as community members. Because they are not on the payroll of your nonprofit, their advocacy can seem less self-serving and more authentic.
The Washington State Community Action Partnership is a nonprofit organization that provides a unified voice for 30 Community Action Agencies serving low-income families and individuals in all 39 counties in Washington. WSCAP has been a member of Washington Nonprofits since 2013 and is a Membership Partner.