“The Power to Make it Better” AARP slogan
Nonprofit advocacy organizations are some of the smallest and poorly funded organizations in the nonprofit sector. Don’t judge them on that alone; they continue to have a huge impact on society. When we think of nonprofit organizations we think of the services they provide directly to people—schools and colleges, performing arts organizations, hospitals, churches etc. Advocacy organizations are trying to change the policies and practices on government agencies, corporations, and other large organizations. The actions of these three players often affect many citizens, employees and consumers and advocacy organizations play an important role by providing critical feedback on their policies and actions (O’Neill 140).
The nation’s largest membership and advocacy organization is AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons), for people fifty years of age and older. Classified as a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization AARP in 2000 had 34 million members and revenue of $580 million (O’Neill 136). I was curious what exactly an advocacy group can provide its members. On the AARP website it says one the benefits of becoming a member include advocacy in Washington—getting a seat at the table on issues like healthcare, retirement, and more. For as low as a $1 a month a person 50 or older can become a member of the largest nonprofit advocacy organization in the nation (www.aarp.org). AARP has become one the largest lobbying groups in Washington. In 2006 in spent nearly $23 million dollars on lobbying efforts. As an advocacy group AARP influenced congress’s passage of the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act, which authorized the creation of Medicare Part D. AARP can expect even more members in the coming years, as the baby boomer generation enters retirement age more will become members of AARP and other retirement advocacy groups. The kind of political power that AARP has now will only grow as more members are eligible to join. Baby boomers control over 80% of personnel finance, which could allow advocacy groups like AARP to gain huge buying/lobbying power in Washington (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baby_boomer#Size_and_economic_impact).
AARP is an example of a very large advocacy group; this is actually rare compared to most nonprofit advocacy groups. Around 79% had fewer than ten employees, and 76% had expenditures less than $500,000 (O’Neill 136). Advocacy groups don’t carry the kind of overhead that a nonprofit that provides a service like healthcare would so more advocacy nonprofits can function with low overhead. Whether it is civil rights, women’s suffrage, gay and lesbian rights, advocacy groups have and will continue to provide the kind of voice that people in these groups would not normally have. I think they are very important in steering policy and leaders into making decisions that can help the small voices in our country be heard. Though small, nonprofit advocacy groups could be one of the most important and influential aspects of the nonprofit sector.