Fewer Non-Profits Engaging In Lobbying Advocacy Than 20 Years Ago

According to a story on the Associated Press, fewer non-profits are engaging in lobbying efforts than 20 years ago. The Independent Sector had commissioned a study that found less than 1/3 of organizations engaged in lobbying over the last five years versus nearly 3/4  of organizations in 2000. Given that there was a lot of advocacy for Covid funding, these results make me wonder if more people weren’t engaged in lobbying in the last five years and didn’t consider what they were doing to be lobbying or if fewer entities did a lot of the heavy lifting versus twenty years ago.

The survey results do seem to indicate organizations are unaware of lobbying rules or uncomfortable with engaging in lobbying and lack the resources to participate.

And even though nonprofits work on a range of issues that are affected by policy choices, such as funding for the arts and science and policies on hot-button issues like abortion and gun control, less than one-third of nonprofits said they were well-versed in how to legally conduct advocacy campaigns and how much lobbying they were permitted to do. Twenty years ago more than half knew the rules, the survey found.


Holding nonprofits back, Watkins said, was a lack of money to hire full-time staff with policy expertise and fear that taking part in debates on policy matters or providing voters with nonpartisan voting guides would put their nonprofit status in jeopardy.

Independent Sector plans to conduct studies to dig deeper into the reasons for the decline, but experts said many nonprofits don’t have the money to engage in policy debates. And some organizations may fear taking public stances on issues, given the heated political environment.

Sticking their necks out could make them targets of political opponents, they said.


A number of survey responses seemed to indicate people were concerned about running afoul IRS rules that prohibit investing a substantial amount of time and resources into lobbying. Substantial is apparently a much higher bar than people realize, though obviously the term leaves a considerable amount of gray area open to interpretation.

While Gorovitz allowed that the IRS regulations on nonprofit advocacy can be confusing, the guidance provided by the agency, he said, is often misunderstood.

“It does not mean ‘don’t lobby,’” he said. “It means lobby. It’s an express invitation in the tax code that says you can lobby.”

Give A Kid A Culture Voucher And They Buy Books As Well As Experiences

I have been keeping an eye on the cultural voucher programs various European countries employ to encourage young people to get out and engage in different experiences. The program differ in detail. There are some that provide rail passes to allow people to explore different geographic areas, including outside their own countries. Others are focused on arts and cultural experiences within the country.  I have written about Germany’s KulturPass before, but I recently caught a story about the most recent round of the program.

According to a recent article, as of August 9, in terms of units purchased since this year’s KulturPass program began on June 14, books and other printed materials have lead the way by far.  Then cinema tickets, concerts and theater, museums and parks, musical instruments, audio media and then sheet music.  In all, about 200,000 units have been purchased in the last two months. About 136,000 German 18 year olds have activated the passes worth €200 (US$219)

In terms of amount spent, concerts and theater lead the way given the greater cost. “….at something around or above €12 million (US$13.2); books follow with so €11 million (US$12.7 million); and cinema tickets follow in third place with €461,000 or more (US$505,900).”

Lest you think Germans are particularly bookish with 49% of voucher funds being used to purchase tomes, Italy has seen similar results with their pass.

“…Italy’s corresponding “18App”—the original “culture voucher” for young citizens in Europe. There, in 2021 specifically, the publishers association reported that 18-year-old Italians were spending 80 percent of their €500 vouchers on books during January and February of that year.”

Obviously, there may be differences in the design and implementation of the pass in Italy that encouraged larger purchases of books. The fact these numbers come from a period 10 months into the Covid pandemic when there were reduced opportunities for other activities likely influences the numbers as well. However, these programs are good examples of a tool to provide bottom up funding to provide a little stimulation to arts and culture organizations.

California Politicians Ask T. Swift To Postpone Shows In Solidarity With Union Strike

Via the CityLab newsletter, Politico recently reported that the Lt. Governor of California, Eleni Kounalakis, was among a number of politicians calling upon Taylor Swift to postpone her shows in Los Angeles to stand in solidarity with hotel workers who are striking for better pay and working conditions.

In the open letter to Swift, Kounalakis and the others wrote that the tour makes area hotels lots of money — with Los Angeles area businesses “doubling and tripling what they charge because you are coming.”

At the same time, the group wrote, many hotel housekeepers and other workers in the region can’t afford to live close to their jobs and some sleep in their cars and risk losing their homes.

“Hotel workers are fighting for their lives. They are fighting for a living wage. They have gone on strike. Now, they are asking for your support,” they wrote. “Speak Now! Stand with hotel workers and postpone your concerts.”

I have a lot of mixed thoughts about this just in terms of how responsive politicians are when the arts and culture sector lobbies for their support. How big and influential you need to be for politicians to pay attention to you. I also wonder how serious the politicians may be in making this request. Are they just posturing to make political points or are they really resolved to bear the consequences if Swift does decide to postpone the shows, potentially raising the ire of fans, but also other workers and companies that stand to benefit economically from the concerts. Apparently the tour has been paying out bonuses to the tour crew.

I am not saying that the striking hotel workers aren’t worthy of support.  It would definitely have a huge impact on behalf of the union and draw attention to their cause. It just feels like a cynical attempt to score points given that it is pretty safe bet that the shows will go on regardless of how loudly they request their postponement.

Bad News As Portland Announces Withdrawl From Regional Arts Group

Some disappointing news out of Oregon. Portland is withdrawing support and participation from the Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC), an independent organization that handles granting and arts education activities in Portland and three surrounding counties. I had written about RACC and Portland’s support of arts and culture before. RACC had been strongly encouraging groups to work toward diversifying their boards, staff and audiences years before it became more of a national focus.

The city has been developing their own arts office which will take up much of the work RACC had done. According to the article, the relationship between the city and RACC had been strained for some time now.

Over the years the city has displayed unrest over the regional approach, with complaints from the city auditor’s office and some city council members that RACC wasn’t providing them with sufficient financial information.


What will the breakup mean for the city and its metropolitan neighbors? It comes at a time when the tri-county area is in the midst of developing a long-term strategy, called Our Creative Future, for regional arts: Presumably, that strategy-in-the-making will have to take a sharp turn.

Writing for Oregon Artswatch, Bob Hicks suggests the timing of this announcement introduces less stability to the already shaky operating environment arts and cultural organizations in the Portland are experiencing as they try to navigate a post-Covid losses, inflation and audience reluctance to return.