Legislative advocacy isn’t easy. The process by which bills are passed at the Nebraska Legislature can be opaque and difficult to follow, and the rules of how to navigate the body are often unwritten. This is particularly true for nonprofit leaders who have a multitude of responsibilities beyond issue advocacy. That is why it makes me so heartened to see dozens of nonprofit leaders engage in our Legislative Advocacy Calls—or, as we like to call them, “the Thursday calls”—held in partnership with the Coalition for a Strong Nebraska and the Nonprofit Association of the Midlands. As these calls resume ahead of the 2024 Nebraska Legislative Session, I wanted to share our plans for the Thursday calls this year and why we view them as a critical aspect of our long-term power-building work.
While some version of a nonprofit advocacy call has been happening in Nebraska for years, in the summer and fall of 2022, NAM, CSN, and the Nebraska Table began efforts to revamp these calls and make them a better educational and collaborative space. Three open discussions were held—in Ashland, Grand Island, and over Zoom—that gave nonprofit leaders the opportunity to share the issues affecting the communities they serve. Through those conversations, housing, mental health, and voting rights and democracy were chosen as the top issue priorities of our network. During the 2023 session, in addition to large group updates and conversations about the pressing bills at the Legislature each week, breakout groups around these three issues regularly met.
In their first year, these coalitions were able to make an impact at the Legislature. Our housing coalition helped to pass changes to the Rural and Middle-Income Housing Investment Acts to increase housing development in our communities and secured appropriations for housing development that were later vetoed by Governor Pillen. Our mental health coalition supported successful efforts to increase provider rates and allow Community Behavioral Health Clinics to operate in Nebraska. And our voting and democracy coalition helped oppose unnecessary restrictions in the voter ID bill and continued fighting for voting rights restoration and the removal of the two-year waiting period. We are excited to see what these three groups accomplish in the coming session. We have also created a fourth breakout coalition that can stay nimble to allow for additional small-group strategizing on key bills moving through the Legislature.
This coalition work is a key part of the Thursday calls, but the calls serve another important role in strengthening the ability of the nonprofit community to engage in advocacy work. There are a variety of ways that this plays out, but I want to highlight three of them:
The Thursday calls give a space for organizations that live deep in the weeds on policy and organizations that focus on direct service to learn from each other. It can be challenging for organizations doing direct service to have the time and capacity to engage in advocacy, and it can be challenging for policy-focused organizations to keep up with the day-to-day issues facing our communities. By bringing together both types of organizations, the Thursday calls are able to provide a space for organizations working directly on Legislation to share their work with direct service organizations and for direct service organizations to contribute their ideas and find ways to engage.
Coordination is a challenge in any type of advocacy work. With so many important issues and such little time, it is critical that our work builds off of what others are doing and does not exist in a vacuum. The Thursday calls give a space for organizations to share what they are working on and find ways to collaborate efforts instead of duplicating them.
Educated nonprofit leaders build an educated community. The Thursday calls are a great space for organizations to learn about the bills that impact them and the community members they serve and bring back that information, as well as ways to take action, to their communities. It is difficult to keep up with everything going on at the Capitol, and the Thursday calls help distill it into the most relevant updates for our nonprofit network.
We look forward to continuing to build and improve our collaborative efforts over the coming session. Our nonprofit community has a critical role to play in the Legislative process, from our deep subject matter expertise to our roots in communities throughout Nebraska. An engaged community of nonprofits can shift power away from the corporate interests that dominate the Lobby, bring new diverse leaders into our work, and help us make progress on the issues we care about. If you are affiliated with a member of NAM, CSN, or the Table, I encourage you to sign up for our Legislative Advocacy Calls here, and join us every Thursday at noon.