Florida Nonprofits Find Creative Ways to Partner to Meet Local Needs
When nonprofits in Florida came together to increase the civic engagement of the state’s many diverse communities, they quickly realized that an innovative structure would be needed to prioritize local issues and elevate local leadership.
The organizations workshopped several ideas before identifying strategies to overcome the challenges presented by the size of the state and the diverse needs of each community. Illustrated below are the steps these organizations took to effectively provide a voice for their constituents while working together as team players.
While the diverse mix of local and national groups in Florida is typical of that found in many states, such cross-cutting partnerships have often been a recipe for friction. A cross-section of organizations working in the state, including the New Florida Majority, Organize Florida, For Our Future, America Votes, the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, and the Florida Immigration Coalition developed the following creative approaches to ensure a more harmonious and productive working relationship:
Prioritize your constituents’ needs. The local Florida groups found that while national groups bring great expertise and resources to their community, local groups have the strongest sense of their constituents’ needs. Their solution was to create their own statewide tables and to divide them along two lines: by issue area and by tax-exempt status ((501(c)(3) public charities and 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations). So, for example, advocates could participate in an environmentally-focused 501(c)(3) table, or an immigration-focused table for 501(c)(4)s. This strategy has helped resolve two issues: relieving nonprofits, especially the 501(c)(3)s, of concerns about jeopardizing their tax-exempt status while taking part in table activities, and permitting the groups to focus more effectively on local issues.
Any concerns about silos cropping up on the landscape proved to be unfounded – the groups say the arrangement has actually facilitated collaboration between 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) tables because the organizations felt that their respective tables were now adequately representing the respective issue areas.
Communication is crucial. Members of Florida’s nonprofit community found that the size of the state created communications challenges. To help build even greater collaboration and awareness, Florida nonprofits created the Statewide Alignment Group (“SWAG”) which includes a variety of nonprofits: 501(c)(3) public charities; 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations; and 501(c)(5) organized labor. Members of SWAG are also members of the aforementioned state tables, and SWAG members have weekly calls to align policy goals across issue areas. The group is able to apply a unique and insightful local lens to its work: for example, bringing awareness of Florida’s racially charged history to SWAG’s advocacy in favor of a renter’s bill of rights or its work to fight the proliferation of private
Have a shared understanding of the rules. To ease collaboration, the groups also landed on an effective way to ensure they are all on the same page when it comes to understanding the law governing their advocacy work: having a common attorney among the tables. The arrangement has proven efficient and cuts down on the risk that groups will receive conflicting legal advice.
Make the most of your relationships. With these robust state networks in place, the Florida nonprofit community also made use of technology and resources that were available from large national organizations, such as the Voter Activation Network (VAN) database available through America Votes. The database is used by the statewide issue-specific tables to increase voter engagement and turnout. And while the groups report that they still grapple with some resource and data-sharing issues, access to national resources helps maximize their impact on the key issues they are working to address.
The way in which Florida’s 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) nonprofits have chosen to organize themselves stands as a great example of how groups can collaborate to maximize their advocacy and power, while elevating local leadership and putting local needs first. It’s a strategy that promises great things for Florida’s future.