Why every voice is important, and how each new one helps

Advocacy

Geno Fragnito, MNCPA director of government relations | November 2018 Footnote

Volunteering provides an opportunity to give back to the community. On pages 8--15, you'll read many great stories about CPAs volunteering, giving back and offering their time and talents. Maybe you or someone you know has helped at a school, served as a board member or treasurer for a child's sports club, or volunteered with a charity.

There's an endless list of possibilities among all the volunteer options you have. But, they all have one thing in common: There is a state or federal regulation that either helps the cause you are supporting, or it may be impeding its success.

It may not come top of mind, but advocacy is another form of volunteer service.

Harnessing CPA equity at the Capitol

Lawmakers hold the CPA profession in high regard, and value the insight and expertise a CPA brings to the conversation. Your training taught you to analyze data, form opinions based on the data and make informed decisions to help a client or business. The process you follow to make professional decisions also applies to serving as a strong voice for any organization with which you volunteer.

One MNCPA award winner, Godson Sowah, applied his talents into advocacy work by speaking with legislators about the importance of passing the Homeless Youth Act. Sowah's work is just one example of how community organizations rely on volunteers to advocate for additional funds for their programs.

"I was excitedly anxious when the Avenues for Homeless Youth's executive director asked the board to help support a coalition of community agencies requesting an additional $2 million in the Homeless Youth Act," said Sowah. "In the prior year, the Act was only able to fund 49 percent of qualified youth services and projects; the critical needs continued to greatly exceed available funds."

A common concern among volunteers new to the legislative process is not knowing what to say or how to begin. It's not easy putting yourself and your cause out there and on the line.  

"I honestly thought that the calls and letters from our board wouldn't matter," said Sowah. "What were the chances we'll get additional funding from a state government already divided over budgets? However, 'a journey of a thousand steps begins with one step.'"

An easy way to calm your nerves is to prepare for a meeting at the Capitol just as you would prepare for a business meeting or presentation. Know your audience, research the issue, prepare an outline and look for ways to make a personal connection with the lawmaker.

Single steps in an advocacy campaign include letter writing, phone calls and emails. But, before you send your message to the masses, you need to take time to determine who should receive your message. It's very important that you make personal contact with your own legislator. They are there to represent you and need to know what is important in their communities. And, while they may not serve on any of the committees with jurisdiction over the issue you are advocating for, they have daily contact with their colleagues and can help keep your issue front and center.

Successful advocacy efforts are essential to advance our local organizations. Thanks to Sowah, the Avenue's board and management team, and a community coalition, an $8 million appropriation bill was secured, including $5 million for homeless youth programs.

"One important lesson is to never advocate alone," said Sowah. "Forge unlikely partnerships and find common benefits to tie each individual's mission together."

The legislative process can be slow; it has often been said the process is a marathon, not a sprint. It is also sometimes confusing and, occasionally, frustrating. It's common for it to take many years to gather enough support for your issue and to see results. But, that doesn't mean it can't be done.

Take it from Sowah: "If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go farther, go together!"

Get involved with MNCPA advocacy efforts

Visit the Government Relations page to stay updated on legislative matters and to find opportunities to get involved.

Have questions?

Do you have questions or want to get involved in the legislative process? Contact Geno Fragnito at 952-885-5550 or gfragnito@mncpa.org.