TANGO Partners Perspective – November 2023

How Nonprofits Can Engage in and Benefit from Government Relations

Alan Deckman
President and Principal Owner, TCORS Capitol Group, LLC.
Founder and President, The Connecticut Blockchain Association

TCORS Capitol Group, LLC

How Nonprofits Can Engage in and Benefit from Government Relations

Nonprofit organizations have the opportunity and necessity to cultivate a robust and symbiotic relationship with government on a local, state, and, sometimes national level. This mutually beneficial dynamic can be facilitated by clear communication, gathering and organization of data, building key relationships, and the alignment of an organization’s mission with public policy. Government relations refers to an organization’s efforts to convey their mission, influence, and needs to elected and non-elected officials who shape these policies. Yet, according to an August 2023 article by the Associated Press, a recent survey conducted for Independent Sectors found that “less than one-third of nonprofits have actively advocated for policy issues or lobbied on specific legislation over the past five years, down from nearly three-quarters of nonprofits in 2000,” a “missed opportunity for nonprofits.” Here are three key ways nonprofits can hone their government relations practices, and how a government relations professional may provide the key to empowering the vital relationship between nonprofits and government.

1) Building Key Relationships
Government can play a crucial role in helping nonprofits to strive toward their missions. By implementing policies that support giving and volunteering, by lending credence and confidence to an organization through collaborative oversight, and by providing financial support, government can bolster an organization’s ability to achieve its goals. In order to facilitate a thriving relationship between nonprofits and government, a nonprofit can seek to build and reinforce its relationship with government offices and officials through grassroots efforts and thoughtful outreach.

The Aspen Institute, an international nonprofit educational institution, whose mission it is to “drive change through dialogue, leadership, and action to help solve the most important challenges facing the United States and the world” states in its white paper on “The Nonprofit Sector and Government: Clarifying the Relationship”: “While government and the nonprofit sector can, and do, accomplish much on their own, they can often accomplish even more by working in tandem. Government brings to such relationships the legitimacy of democratically expressed public authority and the resulting ability to generate resources for priority purposes. Nonprofit organizations, for their part, bring familiarity with community needs, the flexibility that comes with smaller scale, diversity, the ability to mobilize voluntary resources, community trust, and sensitivity to local problems and needs.” By building key relationships between government officials and nonprofits, both may more successfully execute their mandates, in service of the public good.

2) Gathering and Synthesizing Data
An important aspect for a nonprofit in building a healthy relationship with government is to furnish “a consistent and constant description of the work your nonprofit does, and the expertise, community knowledge, and data that it provides,” according to government relations scholar Puneet Luthra, Principal Consultant of PSL Consulting. The gathering of specific knowledge and data is an inherent facet of the work that nonprofits do within their communities; nonprofits are the experts on their constituencies, and this expertise can be invaluable to the government. Luthra suggests that a nonprofit “mine its data” and analyze, “how does your data reconcile with public policy decision-making?” This information can be critical in shaping good public policy, providing insights otherwise inaccessible to government policymakers. By clearly conveying the concerns of its community, backed by empirical data, a nonprofit also gives the government an opportunity to observe and uplift the nonprofit’s work and mission, and to rely on the nonprofit as the salient authority in its sphere.

3) Demonstrating Expertise
The Aspen Institute succinctly describes the nuanced and important relationship between nonprofits and government: “While operating with a substantial degree of independence, nonprofit organizations often come into contact with government in carrying out their missions. Various levels of government-– federal, state, and local—set the broad legal framework within which nonprofit organizations operate. Government policies affect incentives for individual and institutional giving and volunteering. Governments at various levels rely heavily on nonprofit organizations to deliver publicly financed services and provide significant financial support to nonprofit organizations in the process. Governments also turn to nonprofit organizations to assist in the formulation of public policy and in the solution of public problems. Finally, government assists the public in ensuring that nonprofit operations are accountable and legitimate.”

So how does a nonprofit initiate the deepening of this essential relationship? “Government relations is about educating elected officials and unelected government representatives about the role your nonprofit can play in assisting them in meeting policy objectives,” Luthra observes. A nonprofit can equip itself with an arsenal of effective and efficient tools to portray its objectives, make policy recommendations, and demonstrate its expertise. Nonprofits can clarify the value that the organization adds and develop materials that convey key messaging, identify and target leaders responsible for the nonprofit’s issues or sector, and review government policy priorities to identify alignment. These tools can provide further opportunities for nonprofits to engage with government, and for both government and nonprofits to benefit from this engagement.

How a Government Relations Professional Can Help
Government Relations professionals provide support for bridging the relationship between nonprofits and government, including working closely with nonprofits on their messaging materials, and on legislative monitoring, grassroots organizing, and legislative and regulatory campaigns.

Though a balance in lobbying must be struck, as enumerated in the IRS’ guidance regarding 501(c)(3) organizations and lobbying, “It does not mean ‘don’t lobby,’” states lawyer and former nonprofit leader Eric Gorovitz, “It means lobby. It’s an express invitation in the tax code that says
you can lobby.” (AP)

The need to cultivate the relationship between nonprofits and government is clear, and government relations professionals have the experience, savvy, relationships, and innovative ideas to help nonprofits achieve their government relations goals.

Further Reading and Resources

Connecticut Blockchain Association

Associated Press “Nonprofits are Lobbying a Lot Less Than Two Decades Ago, According to New Research

The Aspen Institute “The Government and Nonprofits: Clarifying the Relationship

CCVO “Government Relations for Nonprofits” with Puneet Luthra, Principal Consultant, PSL Consulting

The Wellesley Institute “Deliberate Relationships Between Government and the Non-Profit Sector: An Unfolding Picture

Internal Revenue Service Lobbying for Charities and Nonprofits

Alan J. Deckman is the President and principal owner of TCORS Capitol Group, LLC. (TCG), a full-service government relations and association management firm that has provided the highest quality of expertise and knowledge in the areas of lobbying and association management for more than 25 years. Mr. Deckman is also the Founder and President of the Connecticut Blockchain Association, whose mission it is to develop, promote, and advance blockchain technology and to establish Connecticut as a leader for blockchain innovation. The Connecticut Blockchain Association strives to create a unifying advocacy voice for the Blockchain industry in the state of Connecticut.


Alan Deckman

President and Principal Owner, TCORS Capitol Group, LLC.
Founder and President, The Connecticut Blockchain Association

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