The Small Nonprofit Podcast: Government relations 101 with Chris Holz

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In this episode of The Small Nonprofit, Chris Holz, seasoned public affairs executive and one of the top 10 lobbyists at Queen’s Park, teaches us about the foundations of government relations, how to build it into your practice and how to develop your relationship with different levels of government BEFORE a crisis happens.

Where does your money come from?

Chris recommends starting with finding out where your funding sources come from and focus there. In addition to the specific department, ministry or agency, also look at your local representatives. Once you identify them, you want to get to know them better and build a relationship. It’s so important for you to understand their specific platforms, which you can find during their election campaign platform pages, annual budget speeches and exercises or speeches from the minister of your particular area or department.

Your organization + government officials = partners

Most people working in government agencies want to see you be successful and you can help them by getting to know them and their priorities. Both public servants and political staffers can be your allies, if you take the time to build that relationship.

How to become a priority

You can start by having a sense of where things are going. This means paying attention to how policies are evolving and the intentions of the government in order to understand their needs and translating what you do to fit their needs. It’s asking yourself, “how does my work fit into the broader issues that the government is tackling?” and “what has my organization accomplished with regards to these issues?”

By understanding the government’s priorities with policy, you can frame and articulate the work you’re doing in a way where the public servants can understand and be your champion. In this sense, you’re helping them meet their goals and at the same time, you’re gaining a pulse on what’s coming down the pipeline in terms of policy, political agenda and understanding what your audience wants to know.

From this point, you can invite them to events such as an AGM, where you can share your organization’s success and how it fits with what they care about. You should also think about other strategies such as media relations where you can build your organization’s online presence and share success stories there.

What is a crisis and how to avoid it

A crisis can be everything from threats of funding cuts, to being on the front-page news in a major newspaper. Chris advises us to understand where the government is coming from, what their purpose is, whether or not it’s a fiscal issue and what they’re supposed to do in other areas. You need to understand what is realistic and possible for the government to do, otherwise, any efforts can get shut down really quickly.

Only once you understand this information, you can start to build a case for your organization and why you or like-minded groups like you should be treated differently. You can do this by mobilizing communities, such as clients or family members of clients, especially if it's a social service agency. You can also consider doing media time at an appropriate point to start to build a public case for why the government should or should not do something to sway public opinion.

There are a lot of small organizations that have a huge impact and great strength because political decision-makers and public servants are champions of these organizations. It's not about size, but thinking about what’s at stake, which in some cases it can be everything. We need to be mindful of public servants, what they can realistically do and what resources they can share with you. It’s about sharing why our organizations are so valuable and worth funding.

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Resources from this Episode

The Good Partnership Guide
CharityVillage Advocacy Articles
Campbell Strategies
Globe and Mail Series
International Coach Federation

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Your Hosts

Cindy Wagman spent 15 years as an in-house fundraiser at organizations large and small before founding The Good Partnership – a boutique fundraising firm focused on small nonprofits. She has worked in social justice, health, arts, and education organizations. She has overseen and executed everything from annual campaigns to multi-million dollar gifts. She became a Certified Fundraising Executive in 2009 and received her MBA from Rotman at the University of Toronto in 2013.

With more than ten years of experience in development, staff and stakeholder management, strategic thinking, partnerships, board governance, and program development, Aine McGlynn is a diversely talented, self-starter committed to finding creative solutions in unexpected places. Aine holds a PhD from U of T and has a history of academic publishing, along with her decade of nonprofit sector experience. She is a practitioner-scholar focused on how to help nonprofits build their capacity to be successful at fundraising.

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