Analyzing ALL the Risks

When I work with nonprofit organizations around integrating advocacy into their work–especially into direct social services–the first objection that I usually hear (often, interestingly, from Executive Directors, voicing the concern on behalf of their Boards of Directors, not directly from Boards themselves) is:

“But there are so many risks.”

And there are, of course.

Risks that funders will take objection to the policy issues that you’ve chosen to advocate for, or that some of your program partners may do the same, or that you’ll get so much attention for your advocacy that your service mission will be obscured (although, truly, isn’t that a problem we’d sort of like to have?), or that your staff will be too overwhelmed and overworked to add another thing to their to-do list?

But what I almost always find is that, in accounting for these risks and weighing their options, organizations fail to acknowledge the very real risks that come with not doing anything.

Because there are costs there, too.

And the potential for danger is huge.

Risks that decisions about your funding will be made without any of your input. Risks that the rights of those you serve will be eroded. Risks that infrastructure and the safety net will be cut, thus necessitating your ever-increasing activity, without ever-increasing resources.

Risks that the bottom drops out from under your organization, and your work, and you don’t notice until it’s too late.

In the rest of life, we’re familiar with the truth that there are risks in action and in inaction.

But, somehow, when it comes to advocacy, to contesting ideas in the political arena and speaking up for the causes we care about, we somehow lull ourselves into thinking that the sidelines are safe.

They are not.

This doesn’t mean that action is always the best course, that your organization should take on every possible cause, or that doing something (anything!) is always better than doing nothing.

But it means that our calculations, about when advocacy is worth it and what price we’re willing to pay, must include an honest assessment of the risks of sitting this one out.

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