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Using Advocacy and Government Relations to Expand the Funding Pool

Non-profit agencies and grants departments always need strategies that result in increased funding. Waiting for the next highly competitive funding round or modifying readily available grants are often the least effective means of solving the issue. Although it might not always seem possible, influencing the pool of funding opportunities is an effective strategy. Advocacy and government relations are two strategies to explore to help increase funding pools and connect with new resources. Following are a few government relations and advocacy basics that can help influence the funding needed for a program.

Understand the Legislative Realm. The legislative process and its various components are complex so education sets the stage for building relationships. Learn about the legislative process and how it affects grant funding pools. This is achieved by linking with online resources like, or local legislators' websites.  Communication venues of various agencies, like social media and monthly e-newsletters and political reporting outlets are also ongoing learning opportunities. Following issue related Senate and House committee schedules is also a helpful resource.
Research the purposes of legislative offices and funding agencies. The mission and strategic focus provides insight here to develop critical conversations. Most legislators and funding agencies make their priorities visible on their websites and social media. You can also find out more from local legislative offices, political feeds or local affiliates of federal and state funding agencies.  
Finally, be educated on lobbying compliance. Depending on the U.S state you operate in, there are a variety of definitions of lobbying, mostly built around job descriptions and time spent focusing on specific issues. There is a difference between educating and advocating. Know it because lobbying compliance will be determined by it. Each state's Attorney General's office can provide you details on your state's definition.
Develop a Government Relations Strategy. There are several elements and activities critical to developing an effective government relations strategy. Understanding the end goal – more funding for the program – is key to developing this plan. Start with focusing on the primary issue to be addressed and what needs to happen for it to be addressed. Then consider the goals and objectives from a programmatic perspective to formulate metrics and impact. This helps develop messaging to legislators and funding agencies. Metric driven messages are impactful to supporting funding streams.
Reach out to local, state, and federal legislative and agency offices for meetings. Most offices have contacts to arrange meetings. Consider participating in group efforts, such as associations or advocacy councils. Don't be surprised if you meet with staff of these offices in the beginning. Telling the agency story and developing relationships results in eventual, direct meetings. Also use event calendars to inquire about upcoming visits to the area. This is an inexpensive way to engage with legislative and agency contacts and results in ongoing relationship building.
Ongoing Strategy. There are many activities to consider for ongoing relations. However, consistent engagement efforts are essential. Create a communication plan with your unique story and efforts. For example, create an annual legislative engagement calendar. Whether it is a yearly visit to Washington, state legislative days, or attendance in regionals visits, it is helpful to engage local first and work your way to the federal level. Emailing a monthly newsletter or sharing published press releases are helpful in building up in these efforts. Ask about similar projects the office has already supported. They may be able to connect you with larger projects that could offer sub-grantee opportunities.
Want to expand your options and partnerships for funding, as well as influence the funding pool for your cause? Consider developing your government relations skills to demonstrate the value of choosing the grants professional.
S. Kimberly Jones, MAS, GPC is the Director of Community Health Advancement for the Adena Health System, located in the southern, Appalachian region of Ohio.  Her work is focused on community health through grants, government relations, and community health and development. She is a member of GPA and its Central Ohio Chapter and has presented on rural grants, community development and strategic planning at four GPA national conferences. You may reach her with questions at Get more ideas on rural development and capacity building by following her blog, Level Field.