The Advocacy versus the Activist Functions of Nonprofits

The Advocacy versus the Activist Role

Nonprofits around the world typically are divided into those that undertake grassroots activism and those that advocate ideological positions and those that combine these two aspects to work for the betterment of society. This means that many nonprofits like the Red Cross and Oxfam are activist and advocacy oriented whereas nonprofits like the World Watch Institute and Club of Rome are primarily advocacy groups. Further, many nonprofits like Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund are primarily activist oriented. The key point to be noted here is that any nonprofit cannot exist in a vacuum where it undertakes only activism or advocacy and hence, has to combine both the functions to gain legitimacy and credibility. In other words, this means that nonprofits have to balance the activism and advocacy aspects in a manner that would help them actualize their goals for social welfare and public good. Of course, there are many nonprofits in the United States that primarily function as advocacy groups with a presence only in the country because of the fact that politics in the US is driven by lobbying and special interest advocacy which means that liberals have to fund nonprofits that espouse their ideologies.

The Examples from Around the World

The case in Asia and Africa is slightly different as nonprofits in these continents are mainly activist oriented. This is because the scale and magnitude of problems confronting them are more and hence, nonprofits cannot remain insulated from grassroots activism. Of course, this is not to say that all nonprofits in these continents are activist oriented as the first and the initial steps that nonprofits in these regions take are usually as advocacy groups which then begin the process of activism once they build the needed infrastructure, acquire the critical mass, and raise resources to carry out activism. The point here is that advocacy is usually easier to accomplish whereas activism requires deep commitment and resources as well as a network of volunteers on the ground or the so-called boots on the ground to actualize their goals and objectives. In other words, it is indeed the case that many nonprofits first take their baby steps with advocacy and then graduate to activism once they have built a base for themselves and have acquired the needed presence and scale to actualize their vision and operationalize their mission.

Grassroots Activism and Interventions and Crisis Handling

Turning to grassroots activism, nonprofits need to not only have the required ideology but also the deep commitment as well as willingness to endure odds and overcome obstacles if they are to pursue grassroots activism. This is because grassroots activism usually means that nonprofits have to take on the might of the state in some areas where they have to question the practices of the state and have to point out lacunae and anomalies in the implementation of the social schemes and the welfare policies of the government. Further, grassroots activism also requires interventions and crisis handling by the nonprofits, which often puts them in the way of vested interests who would not like interference from those whom they deem to be unwanted attention and spotlight focusers on their nefarious activities. This is the reason why many nonprofits stop at the initial stages of activism and do not venture into interventions and crisis handling. This is also the reason why many nonprofits partner with law enforcement and governmental agencies so that any interventions and crisis handling can be done in tandem with the government rather than the nonprofits assuming the role that the government has to do. Of course, this is easier said than done as in many cases, the nonprofits find that the governmental agencies have abdicated their responsibilities and this is where they discover that they have to intervene and set right the anomalies on the ground.


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