Yet it’s also true that tax dollars can be a vehicle to fund the common good. Every issue we care about in our communities – from environmental protection and healthcare to schools, libraries, and yes, roads – can be made better by a strategic allocation of federal, state and local tax dollars.
With the spotlight on taxes this month, why not use the April 15th deadline to amplify our voices to advocate that tax dollars be used to benefit the public – and your cause. Here are three ideas + examples to jumpstart your creative thinking.
Put Your Mouth Where Your Money Is
In 2011, our colleagues at CompassPoint put together a series called “Nonprofits Talking Taxes” to address how nonprofits could make an impact during the California budget crisis. While nonprofits often recognize the link between public funding and their issue, they don’t always have the tools to frame public investments in terms of the common good. CompassPoint sought to help groups articulate ways that cuts to public spending on their issues – things like education, drug treatment programs and even sidewalks – hurt everyone in the state. Kim Klein, consultant on the project, shared some creative thoughts on how to frame the issue, in particular around the notion that taxes protect community resources. What are some examples of how you work for the common good, and how it could be make stronger with smarter public funding?
Lead with Impact
A few years ago in Wisconsin, a coalition came together to address public funding for treatment for low-level drug offenders. Our clients Human Impact Partners conduced health-based analyses to understand how the state’s criminal justice policies impacted the health of Wisconsinites, and they asked participants what they wanted policy makers to know. “I want them to know that drug court saved my life,” said one participant. HIP and the coalition then backed up statements like this with concrete data showing that putting tax dollars toward treatment could actually reduce the prison and jail population, reduce crime, keep people from returning to prison and make families stronger. The result? Findings from the research changed the questions people ask about criminal justice and led lawmakers to quadruple resources allocated for treatment alternatives. “Instead of this being about what people deserve,” said David Liners, Director of WISDOM, a partner in the campaign, “it gets to be about what actually makes things better.” Score one for a healthy use of tax dollars, and for the groups who smartly framed the argument.
Take the Long View
Our clients at California Convergence co-convene Enact Day each year to bring advocates together from all over California to support state policies promoting nutrition and physical activity. Last year’s Enact Day highlighted a specific piece of state legislation, AB1321, that sought to ensure that all Californians, regardless of income, would have access to local, healthy food on a regular basis. In addition to making a difference with the legislature – the bill passed in September – Enact Day educated leaders about the benefit of public funding. Ultimately, California Convergence shows us not to be afraid to look for – and publicize – the connection between your cause and public funding.
If you want to get started this year, remember, your action can be simple, like starting a thread on social media about the ways your cause ties to public funding. Be sure to give concrete examples and focus on positive impact.
And if you don’t take on the tax challenge this year, be sure to put April 15th on your communications calendar for next year. Because your work – and our tax dollars – really can make a big difference for us all.