April 14, 2014

8 Tips for Influencing the California State Budget

Nonprofit leaders need to understand how their organizations can influence the far-reaching impact of the California state budget on their programs and constituents. That was the message delivered at a recent workshop presented by Chris Hoene, executive director of the California Budget Project.

This highly informative presentation can be found here, and some excellent resources can also be found on the CBP website. The event was co-sponsored by Community Partners, along with Southern California Grantmakers, CalNonprofits, the California Budget Project, and Public Works; sponsored by the Weingart Foundation and Annenberg Foundation.

The workshop also included a panel (Leticia Alejandrez, director of communications at The California Endowment, Veronica Carrizales, director of policy and campaign development for California Calls, and Ignacio Hernandez, founder of the Hernandez Strategy Group) who shared a wealth of information and advice to help nonprofit leaders become stronger budget advocates. We’ve distilled some of those lessons and takeaways here:

    1. Join forces. Alejandrez stressed the importance of joining forces with other organizations with a similar mission. She encouraged organizations to join coalitions and agree to a certain message and communication strategy. If your organization is new to budget advocacy and lobbying, joining a coalition is the easiest way to hit the ground running and be known by key decision makers in the legislator. There are statewide alliances on a variety of issues with which your organization can align.
    2. Do your homework. Conduct a power analysis to determine the key decision makers and champions of particular issues and legislation, the timeline, and the other organizations involved in influencing policy.
    3. Tap your network. Similar to fundraising, reach out to supporters of your organization who may be able to make connections to key influencers and decision makers at the state level.
    4. Inform the communities you serve. Carrizales stressed the importance of informing communities on issues such as the budget, taxes, and government programs. Many are unaware of the realities of the state budget, or often believe misconceptions such as welfare recipients and the homeless are the biggest tax avoiders.
    5. Tailor your messages. The nonprofit Public Works has guides and resources to help organizations make the case for public solutions and identify the positive impact of public policies and programs.
    6. Share real stories and voices. Based on his experiences at the state capitol, Hernandez believes it is critical for organizations to share the stories of those directly affected by the state budget. It’s a way for constituents to get involved and impact the process.
    7. Educate your lawmaker. Given the high turnover of legislators in Sacramento, it is critical that organizations help their new representatives learn the budget process. If your representative is new, provide him or her with specifics such as the item or bill number, the history and current state of an issue, and the exact changes you want to see implemented.
    8. Get training. The Women’s Foundation of California and the National Council of La Raza have training programs that help individuals learn about the state and federal budget and how to advocate for particular issues.

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