More and more NFPs are needing to rethink how they fund their mission. Good government relations will be crucial to achieve this in the future a report from Perpetual and government relations expert, Neil Pharaoh states.

The report sees during these unprecedented times and as the pandemic continues the government is turning away from the day-to-day business of policy to give full focus to the crisis. Pharaoh suggests this is an opportunity to get your government engagement systems in order and review and update your strategy.

The report How NFPs Should Engage with Government identifies seven government engagement basics for NFPs:

1. Government engagement is everyone’s responsibility

Being actively involved in government engagement hasn’t traditionally been seen as an automatic part of either Board or Management’s duties for most organisations. Many executives don’t see themselves as being responsible for, or even terribly involved in, the day to day activity of government engagement. During a global or national crisis, this oversight can cost your organisation. Align your government engagement activities to your organisational strategy, tie it to your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and clearly define what everyone should be doing to further your government engagement objectives.

Government engagement is most effective when it is a whole organisation affair

2. Examine systems and strategy

You may need to redraw your picture of what great networking, political access, campaigning and influence look like. Major funding or policy wins are unlikely to be achieved easily. Success in this arena requires building, maintaining and strengthening of relationships over a long time, ideally at multiple altitudes of government. Assess your government stakeholder framework: do you have stakeholders across each of the following five key areas?

Assess your government stakeholder framework: do you have stakeholders across each of the following five key areas?

Engaging with the public service is a critical part of government engagement. Building relationships at every level of a department will gain you insights into ministerial preferences, key processes and trends and future policy directions, opening up opportunities for collaboration and partnership. When approaching policy departments, it is vital you engage with the right level of government. Depending on the size of your organisation and its relevance to a policy department, your Board members can and should engage with Secretaries, Deputy Secretaries and Executives.

Management should be engaging with Executive Directors, Directors, Assistant Directors, Chief Advisors and Chief Officers within your chosen policy department and Operational team with departmental managers and their staff – the people who are subject experts and have direct responsibility for policy and program areas.

3. Build in-house capability

It is crucial that the capability exists in-house to build enduring, sustainable relationships across all areas of government, which are owned and managed by your Management and team. This allows you to build a bank of government engagement knowledge and skills within your organisation. How can this translate into action? Build capability by providing government engagement training to a range of people within your organisation, including your Board, Management and Operational staff.

4. Electorate mapping

Do you collect postcode data on your clients, donors, supporters, Board members, staff, volunteers, visitors and/or other stakeholders? A politician may have an understanding of what your business does, however it is highly unlikely that they know the number of touchpoints your organisation has with their constituents. Without this information, the reach, influence and relevance of your organisation is unclear and probably underestimated. Electorate mapping opens up the opportunity for you to engage politicians in dialogue that is strategic, structured, evidence-based and relevant. It is simply a matter of de-identification of postcodes, collation on the basis of an electorate and framing it from a political standpoint. Your stakeholder data can then be overlaid with other research and insights to demonstrate the importance of a particular issue to a politician’s constituents. Presented with this information, politicians can immediately understand the impact that your organisation has in their electorate, particularly for marginal seats. This may change their awareness, position and actions when it comes to your organisation, industry and even sector.

5. Impact mapping

Collect information and data on measuring the impact of the crisis on your organisation. Map and cost that impact (whether positive or negative) on you and your sector as it impacts you. What project cancellations, loss/increase of revenue, impact on staff hours or reduction/increase of clients, donations or service provisions have you encountered?

What is the subsequent loss/increase of revenue flowing into the community or localities where you serve (or spend)? The purpose of mapping the crisis now is to build a tangible, credible and compelling case for government support or funding when the occasion presents itself.

6. Activate your supporters

Get your staff, volunteers, members and donors to make some noise to their local media and/or approach their local, state and federal MPs. You need to start getting the word out that there is a case to be made for you receiving support or funding, and to start demonstrating your footprint in their various electorates.

6. Check if your organisation is listed on the lobbyist register

By law, anyone lobbying to government on behalf of a third party must be registered on the government lobbyist register and, in the process, declare all clients that they have done paid or pro bono work for. Consequently, many non-profit and social purpose organisations are unwittingly finding themselves listed on the lobbyist register, despite their lobbyist relationship having already ended. This can be both damaging to your reputation and potentially put future funding, contracts and partnerships at risk.

Many organisations listed are unaware they are on the register, so it is critical you check to see whether you are in this situation. The Federal register is available at https://lobbyists.ag.gov.au/register but each state has their own register to check also.


This article is an excerpt from How NFPs Should Engage with Government: Strategies, tools and frameworks for long-term success.
Prepared by Neil Pharaoh, in partnership with Perpetual which also addresses:

  • The optimal funding level for government relations
  • The role of the board
  • Crisis management
  • How to manage government relations strategically.


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