As a consultant, I work primarily with local non-profit organizations which provide community services. For the Boards and Executive Directors of many of these organizations, “public policy” is “far away, out there”. In my experience, organizations see themselves as constrained, directed and otherwise limited by public policy AND they feel they have very limited capacity to see things change in substantial ways.
Most organizations are connected locally to politicians and governments. Some voice opinions and maintain ongoing relationships, but few Boards make relationship building, influencing and advocacy an intentional part of their work. Many organizations depend on infrequent consultations arranged by funders to “have their say” (and often complain about the inadequacy of such opportunities).
Too often, local organizations delegate policy advocacy and systemic change efforts to the networks and “service sector” associations that they belong to. The agendas for network/association advocacy efforts understandably are dominated by advancing the operating interests of members, rather than social change and community impact. The focus is on means, not ends. In my view, even though we all care, creating social change is too often a “nobody job”.
A few further observations about the way that the “system” works:
- Co-dependency with funders and associations reinforces our tendency to pay attention to service system “mechanics” and means, vs social change.
- Organizational Identity and world views are limited by boundaries of the “service silo”. This acts as a barrier to defining a shared vision of community and collective impact work.
- Concern for sustainability causes a focus on means (services and structures) vs community impact.
- Ambassadorial role of Boards is not well understood and exercised. Community engagement, where Boards are actually “involved” is often limited to resource development and brand building vs “Standing for the Mission”.
Some Possible ways Consultants can help
By encouraging and influencing:
- organizations to ask “what good for which people?” (impact) and then, “who else cares?”. Help organizations to frame their missions differently so that they contemplate “turning outward” and shift energy to creating the future for their communities. 
- organizations to have conversations about shared vision and removal of systemic barriers “across sectoral boundaries”.
- Boards to embrace roles as ambassadors and, within that role, engaging the community in reducing barriers to healthy, inclusive communities. When I say “engaging” I mean doing more than asking for “customer feedback” regarding services. People with lived experience need to be supported to participate in the design of efforts to help them and in advocacy to reduce barriers to citizenship and inclusion.
- Leaders to believe in “collective enoughness”; “Together, we have everything we need. It is only on our own that we experience scarcity”.
As consultants, we lead from beside and often, from behind. We can support community engagement, in creating good public policy, by encouraging a community-first approach and community organizations and citizens to share and build on their collective assets.
Written by BMG Associate:
Third Sector Consulting
151 Monty Drive
Woodlawn, Ontario K0A3M0 Canada
Phone (613) 668-7390
 BoardSource, Stand for Your Mission, https://standforyourmission.org/
 Rich Harwood, “Turning Outward”, https://theharwoodinstitute.org/practice
 Governing Good, “Board Members as Ambassadors”, October 18, 2019, http://www.governinggood.ca/board-members-have-role-a-outside-the-board-room-and-it-is-not-what-you-think/
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