Posts Tagged ‘advocacy’

How one donor achieved impact beyond check-writing

“Philanthropy is neither a solitary effort by the donor nor even a dialectical effort between the donor and the grantee. Social change involves many different players from all sectors of society. It is through the engagement and alignment of these multiple players that catalytic donors achieve their impact.”

A best practice worth repeating

I recently taught a philanthropy class where we discussed the merits of this sentiment published in Crutchfield, Kania and Kramer’s book, Do More Than Give: The Six Practices of Donors Who Change the World. While this book has been widely discussed since it was published in 2011, revisiting it with my class reminded me that the principles are as relevant today as they were four years ago. I have a renewed appreciation for some of the case stories that illustrate what it means to be a catalytic donor so I’d like to return to one of the authors’ great profiles about a donor by the name of Emily Jackson Tow.

Jackson Tow is an example of what the authors call an adaptive leader or someone who fully evaluates the issue and hand and determines how she can facilitate transformative change beyond funding. These adaptive donors “are not content to merely give a man a fish, or even teach him to fish; these entrepreneurs won’t stop until they’ve revolutionized the entire fishing industry,” says Ashoka founder Bill Drayton. In this particular case, Jackson Tow demonstrates the first of the six highlighted best practices in the book: advocate for change.

How Emily Jackson Tow advocated for change

The authors highlight the Tow Foundation’s advocacy efforts to demonstrate the power of a donor’s influence beyond financial impact. The Tow Foundation maintains a portfolio approach to giving, but its greatest impact comes from its nonfinancial contributions, such as sweat equity, knowledge of best practices, national and local networks, relationships and perseverance to reform the state’s juvenile justice system.

Emily Tow Jackson became aware of a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of adolescents who were jailed for minor offenses, such as graffiti, in the same facility as serious offenders and confined to small, poorly ventilated cells for up to 21-hour stretches with two inmates and no toilet. Beyond the horrible conditions, the larger issue was Connecticut’s escalating youth imprisonment rates. Many of the juvenile offenders did not require high-security prison facilities; rather they needed counseling, safe and stable homes, and other basics.

Tow Jackson immediately set to work by enlisting three nonprofit organizations to establish the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance with a start-up grant of $25,000. Additionally, the foundation engaged in advocacy activities that included the following:

–        funding and participating in collaborations,

–        educating legislators with forums at the state capitol,

–        participating on local and state government committees,

–        raising public awareness through media,

–        and giving general operating support to nonprofits focused on this issue.

By 2009, referrals to juvenile court dropped by more than one third and the number of youth convictions dropped by almost two thirds. At the time the Do More Than Give was published, Connecticut was recognized nationally as an innovative leader in handling juvenile cases, rather than as a leading incarcerator of minors.

Nuances of advocacy

The authors explain an important piece about this best practice: Some funders avoid lobbying because of a fear or misunderstanding of how much lobbying is allowed, so the authors define advocacy and related terms as:

–       Advocacy refers to activism around an issue such as climate change, free trade or youth justice. Examples of activities range from educating and mobilizing voters to pitching media stories and raising awareness to directly influencing public officials.

–       Policy advocacy (a.k.a. lobbying) refers to specific efforts to change public policy or obtain government funding for a social program.

–       Lobbying versus advocacy: Most of the confusion lies with advocacy. Lobbying is prohibited by foundations in the U.S. and advocacy is an all-encompassing term for a whole range of activities.

Private foundations, which include most family foundations, cannot fund or engage in direct lobbying, but they can make general operating grants to nonprofits that lobby. Large private foundations have a long political history because they generally have a larger staff of trained professionals who have a deep understanding of the issues and social sector.

Conversely, public foundations, such as community foundations are allowed both to engage in lobbying themselves and to fund nonprofits that lobby. Because community foundations find themselves at the center of many different stakeholders, most shy away from lobbying. However, the authors explore a case study about The New Hampshire Charitable Foundation and how it successfully positioned its lobbying activities so its constituents would embrace them.

–       Corporate foundation lobbying: Good corporate foundations reconcile lobbying activities that benefit their company with those that lend strength to the social causes they support for a win-win. Corporations can leverage vast brand recognition and marketing channels to broadcast policy messages and they can mobilize entire industries. In contrast, some companies still support legislation that directly contradicts their socially responsible images. For example, Toyota, maker of the eco-friendly Prius, lobbied with other carmakers against tougher fuel economy standards.

Working together for maximum impact

To create systemic change, nonprofits today need catalytic donors in their court to leverage the full participation of every sector in society. According to the authors, the number of billionaires has tripled since 2000 and nearly half of the 75,000 private foundations established in the U.S. were created in the last decade. We’re also seeing growth in private enterprise where new corporate entities are created to blend profit with social purpose, as well as in government’s willingness to partner in nonconventional ways.

Within the context of these societal trends, there is no question that donors are positioned like never before to help orchestrate an integrated approach to problems and embrace catalytic philanthropy. Visit the Do More Than Give website for more stories about donors who create catalytic change in their communities.

See also:

Fail Better: Design Smart Mistakes and Succeed Sooner

Mission-Based Management: Leading Your Not-for-Profit in the 21st Century, 3rd Ed.

The Ask: How to Ask for Support for Your Nonprofit Cause, Creative Project or Business Venture

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Six ways to package your story so it qualifies as news

If you don’t have anything to hide, why should you worry about media relations? I get asked this question on at least a weekly basis. People figure that if they’re not breaking the law or having a sordid affair with a married politician, they really shouldn’t have to spend time thinking about dealing with the media. They also think that because they know all about how wonderful their organization is, everyone does too.


And they’re wrong on both counts.


All of my clients are hardworking, publicly-minded people who work in progressive nonprofits. That’s the only kind of client my firm takes. So when I suggest to them that it is important to learn about what makes the media tick and how to use that knowledge to their advantage, people always look at me like I wandered into the wrong meeting. They are laboring under the belief that because they are the good guys, they will look like the good guys if the media ever comes to call.


Big mistake. For several reasons.


Misconceptions about media and coverage


First, they have a misconception of what the term “media relations” or “public relations” means. To many people, these terms conjure up visions of slick, chain-smoking corporate types lying through their teeth. In reality, the number one rule of media relations is never, ever, lie. Not even about the tiniest thing.


Second, most people who are dedicating their lives to improving their communities tend to be under the impression that most reasonable people can see what they see–the poor need food, kids need education and families need access to health care. What they forget is that they are standing on the front lines – and there are way too many people out there who travel from their gated communities to their high rise offices and don’t see any of that. Those are people who could potentially become donors, volunteers, and voters in support of their cause – if they only could be reached.


Third, because my clients do their jobs very carefully, knowing that lives and livelihoods are at stake, they often believe that everyone in the media is as careful as they are. And that just isn’t the case. You can blame it on impossible deadlines, corporate profit motive, sloppy reporting or just bad editing, but the fact of the matter is, a news-story is generally written at breakneck speed by an overworked reporter who has little or no background on the issue. It is edited at an even faster pace by an even more overworked editor who has even less knowledge.


How to qualify as news


So, no matter who you are, if you have a desire to inform the public, increase your donor base, change laws or regulations, or just get some well-deserved kudos, it is in your best interest to become savvy in media relations. It is never about lying or twisting facts. It is about is packaging information so that it could qualify as “news,” and then making sure that everything needed for the story is lined up in a way to make it easy, fast and accurate for the reporter.


To know how to “package” your information, you have to know what makes a story “news”. When I taught journalism to college students, every basic journalism textbook laid it out the same way. So I teach my clients exactly what every journalist is taught in their first reporting course. A news story must contain at least one (and hopefully more than one) of the following six elements: conflict, impact, novelty prominence, proximity or timeliness.


Conflict is the strongest basic news element there is. The fact that everything is hunky dory just isn’t news. When something goes wrong, then it becomes interesting. It’s just human nature. Think about the last time you called a friend with some really good gossip. Was it good news? Probably not. Conflict is what makes story-telling go round. And news is story telling. If there’s not conflict in your story, you’re going to have a hard time selling it to the press.


Impact is another strong basic news element. If something happens that’s going to have an impact on the reader, they’ll likely want to know about it. Unfortunately, we’re a country of self-centered people. If it affects them personally, Americans care. If it doesn’t, generally they don’t. We can discuss the morality of this at another time (and believe me, I do) but the fact remains. A majority of readers probably aren’t that interested in a civil war in a far off country. But they DO care if that war is going to affect their coffee prices.


Novelty is easy: If something happens all the time, it’s generally not news. If it is very unusual, then it is. The standard J-school example is this: if dog bites man, that’s not news. If man bites dog, that’s news.


Prominence is the culprit behind all those Brittney Spears stories. We are a celebrity culture, and once someone has made it into the limelight, any tiny tidbit about them is news. But remember, prominence means prominence. Your Executive Director might be a star around the office, but in terms of media, unless they also double as a movie star or a billionaire, they probably don’t count as “prominent.”


Now for the last two: Proximity and Timeliness. Proximity deals with distance. If you’re pitching a story to the local paper, it better be a story that takes place right in town. Statewide papers do carry some national news, but for the most part, they write stories about what happens in the state. Timeliness means something just happened – a court case decided a month ago is not news, one decided today is. Timeliness is the reason reporters and editors work fast and furious. Because to delay means to lose the story.


Those are the six elements of a news story. If you want a media outlet to pick up on your story, it has to have one (or more) of those elements. That means you should package your story to play up one or more elements. Usually the two that work best are conflict and impact. If you can show how what your organization does helps ordinary people who don’t even know you exist – you’ve got a story. If you can show how some issue in your community is causing a clear definable conflict, you’ve got a story. There are all kinds of ways you can work this, but these are the foundational building blocks to pitching the media.


You can also use these elements stop a story from becoming news. If a journalist calls you and wants to talk about an issue you’d rather not be in the paper, then the strategy is to TRUTHFULLY play down the elements in the story. If you can convince a journalist that the story is old (not timely), or that your certainly not concerned about it (no conflict) or that it doesn’t really affect anyone (no impact), you’ve successfully killed a story. That comes in handy too.


At this point, I always have to stop and tell my clients that they shouldn’t despair. Despite how it looks, the human race is not beyond redemption. But talk of “reforming the media” isn’t going to do much good in the short run. If you work at a nonprofit that needs to get its message out there, you’d be better served by working within the parameters then fighting them. Just remember the elements of a news story:









See also:


Social Media–Volume One: Measuring Social Media, Building a Network, Creating Multichannel Campaigns and Mastering Twitter


The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting with Social Media to Drive Change


This was Part I: The 6 elements of a news story


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Multichannel efforts: Your path to social change

“Social media is a tool, not the tool with Gen X and Millennials,” said Fundraising and the Next Generation author and consultant, Emily Davis. I hosted Davis at a live author interview for the Colorado Nonprofit Association’s fall conference yesterday and whenever we discuss fundraising with younger generations, social media inevitably comes up. Other questions that always surface are about what platforms to use, what social media preferences these generations have and so on. In short, there’s still a lot of uncertainty about the best use of our time online with our nonprofit communities. On the heels of this session with nonprofit leaders, I’m pleased we can offer our latest book Page to Practice™ feature about creating change through multichannel efforts.

The authors of Social Change Anytime Everywhere challenge those of us who are setting up one or two online profiles and calling it good. Social networks such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are among the top five ranked websites for traffic in the U.S. More than 5.2 billion people have mobile accounts, which means there are five times as many mobile phone subscriptions as there are personal computers or landline phones.

With jaw-dropping statistics like these and many more, coauthors Allyson Kapin and Amy Sample Ward establish that online multichannel efforts are a necessary bridge between you and the bright future for your cause. With literally dozens of illustrative examples, case stories and specific guidance, the authors describe how you can boost fundraising, spark advocacy and build community with a multi-pronged approach. They explain how you can earn the collective support of everyone in your organization—even the critics—as well as actualize your online plans.

Kapin and Sample Ward

I asked Allyson Kapin about how the book adds to the discussion about social media efforts:

CausePlanet: With a wealth of rhetoric and written material about social media, what do you want readers to know about how your book uniquely adds to the discussion?

Kapin: Social media is not a silver bullet for fundraising. It’s also not a replacement for your website, email or direct mail list. It’s one of multiple channels that organizations should be using to engage their communities. It’s important that organizations integrate these channels into their communications and outreach efforts. They should not be siloed.

Join us next week when we’ll highlight why Allyson Kapin and her coauthor, Amy Sample Ward explain why nonprofits should adopt a start-up mentality when trying to instigate social change.

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Why do half of all chief fundraisers want to quit?

Join me in taking a closer look at our latest feature at CausePlanet: Charity Case by Dan Pallotta. In Pallotta’s prior book, Uncharitable, he presents the problem with our social sector: the way our society has been taught to think about charity is backwards. Furthermore, the social sector is required to work with a different rule book than the corporate world, which prevents us from moving the needle on humanitarian issues. Uncharitable prompts readers to ask what we should do about it.

Charity Case is a comprehensive answer. It’s a blueprint for a national movement that will put our society on the right track to support social issues. Pallotta argues the social sector needs its own civil rights movement and explains his plan for a new “Charity Defense Council” to lead it. The Council should approach the problem from five angles: 1) Establish an Anti-Defamation League; 2) launch an aggressive, paid public media campaign; 3) enact a National Civil Rights Act for Charity and Social Enterprise; 4) establish a Legal Defense Fund; and 5) organize the sector on behalf of its own issues (including 17 ways to get involved in this movement).

We asked Pallotta about the foundation community’s role in his movement. His answer references an interesting article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy this week:

CausePlanet: The foundation community seems to be uniquely poised for funding and supporting some of the five strategies you’ve explored—especially because one of the problems is rooted in the misguided goal of maintaining a low overhead. What are your thoughts on this statement?

Pallotta: Foundations are notoriously risk-adverse, and they have a high rate of illiteracy about the power of fundraising. In fact, there is a story in the “Chronicle of Philanthropy” this week that says half of all chief fundraisers would like to quit their jobs, primarily because even their own CEOs don’t understand fundraising. Foundations understand it even less. I think the capital that foundations are sitting on would be well-used to fund an effort like this, but it’s going to take an enormous amount of work to get them to see the light.

Watch for more interview highlights with Pallotta in the upcoming weeks and follow him at and for more discussion about these issues.

See also:

Page to Practice summary of Charity Case

Page to Practice summary of One-Hour Activist

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Keys to successful advocacy: compelling local stories and long-term commitment

Working to improve public policy is often the best way to address the underlying problems facing the people many nonprofit agencies serve. It has been compared to “going upstream” to fix the railings on a bridge to prevent people from falling into a river, rather than only pulling them out after they’ve fallen in. In an ideal world we would do both.

The Page to Practice™ summary of Christopher Kush’s The One-Hour Activist: The 15 Most Powerful Actions You Can Take to Fight for the Issues and Candidates You Care About provides excellent advice and outlines specific actions nonprofit leaders can take to move “upstream” and advocate for public policy changes.

While some nonprofits are reluctant to work on public policy, the Colorado Nonprofit Association includes advocating on behalf of constituents, the organization and the nonprofit sector as one of its principles of excellence.

In this article I will expand on two aspects of the advice provided by Mr. Kush:

    Using local information and stories to communicate with and influence policymakers.
    Taking action to build long-term relationships with elected officials.

      Using local information and stories to communicate with and influence policymakers

      Once you have identified the issue or issues you plan to work on, you need to develop a strategy for influencing policymakers to adopt your proposals. Kush offers several pieces of good advice for reaching out to and communicating with policymakers.

      As Tip O’Neill, former Speaker of the U.S. House once said, “All politics is local.” Kush builds on this idea and argues, “Geography is the single most important thing about you and your issue.” He points out most elected officials are very concerned with local trends, the number of people your organization serves and how broader statewide or national policies are playing out in the local community.

      I see this all the time in the Colorado General Assembly, where legislators want to know how a policy would affect either people in their community or Colorado generally. On a bill to limit the use of credit information in hiring decisions, lawmakers wanted to know the number and type of Colorado workers who were denied jobs because of their poor credit history. National data is helpful in describing the issue, but the more local the data the better. Nonprofit organizations often have solid local information and can show how policies affect their communities and constituents.

      Kush also argues the best way to communicate the effects of policy proposals is through personal stories. Again, this is very consistent with my experience. A compelling personal story helps legislators put data and statistics into context. Using the credit information bill as an example, testimony from workers who struggled with inaccurate credit reports and had problems getting jobs because of poor credit helped legislators see how the issue affected real people. Conversely, testimony from business owners who explained why and how they used credit information to screen job applicants helped lawmakers better understand their side of the issue. You need to be prepared to offer compelling stories to help make your case, because you can count on your opponents using stories to help make theirs.

      However, it is important to put the stories into the broader context. Many times opponents will try to dismiss one person’s story as the result of bad decisions on his/her part or chalk it up to a single incident. Presenting data showing many people face similar problems or having experts attest to the broad scope of the problem makes it harder to discount one individual’s story.

      The power of a personal story was brought home this session when we worked on a bill to allow students to get college credit for training they received at work, in the military or through other experience before enrolling. We presented background statistics and studies showing how this policy would save students money and help more of them graduate from college. However, it was the testimony of a long-serving veteran who told about the difficulty he had in getting colleges to give him credit for the training he received in the military that won over the committee members. They were so moved by his testimony they passed the bill out of committee unanimously and several agreed to speak for it –Democrats and Republicans–when it was heard on the floor.

      Taking action to build long-term relationships with elected officials

      Mr. Kush correctly points out a key to being successful in public advocacy is cultivating ongoing, long-term relationships with elected officials. Most policy issues take many years to play out and are often not resolved with a single piece of legislation or in one legislative session.

      Even if you are successful in getting legislation passed, you will need to stay engaged to see it is implemented properly. Many times, the legislature will give a state agency broad authority to work out the specific details of a policy proposal and how it is to be implemented. Nonprofits need to monitor and participate in this process to ensure the policy as implemented is consistent with the intent of the bill as passed.

      Several years ago, we worked as part of a coalition to pass legislation reforming payday loans. After the bill passed, we testified at a public hearing and submitted written comments during the Attorney General’s proceedings to write the rules implementing the law. This paid off as the rules adopted were consistent with our interpretation of the legislation and more favorable to the borrowers than those pushed by the payday lenders.

      Kush offers excellent advice for developing long-term relationships with elected officials, such as maintaining regular contact, inviting them to visit your organization and attending lawmakers’ town hall meetings. As Kush writes, it often takes several meetings over a number of years before legislators have a strong awareness of your organization. “The dividends come but none of this stuff happens instantly.”

      Kush’s advice is a good starting point for your entry into the world of public policy advocacy. In our experience, engaging in public policy and making the effort to go “upstream” and fix the railings pays off in the long run.

      See also:

      One-Hour Activist

      Social Change Anytime Everywhere


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      Use your cultivation know-how for advocacy

      Building a relationship with your elected officials is no different than cultivating a donor. You can’t expect to call them last minute on an important issue affecting your nonprofit and get results…unless you live in his or her district, but I digress.

      Our current Page to Practice™ feature of the One-Hour Activist by Christopher Kush is a smart tutorial on making incremental progress on advocacy without detracting from your core responsibilities as an executive director, staff member or board member. Each of the “10 most powerful actions you can take to fight for the issues and candidates you care about” takes no more than an hour but cumulatively add up to a conscientious approach to advocacy for your cause. Kush also provides five “super-sized” actions that take more than an hour but are worth the effort.

      Get to know your legislator: One of the most proactive measures you can take in advocacy no matter how involved you decide to be is to develop a relationship with your legislator. You may be wondering what value you can bring to your elected official by meeting with them. The answer is a lot.

      Bring two clients: When I asked Kush about what nonprofit leaders can do when preparing for a meeting, he said, “There are always compelling stories related to important issues–it is usually a matter of taking the time to find them and refine them. I always ask nonprofit executives to ‘bring’ two clients with them whenever they come to Washington, DC, or the state Capitol. Nonprofit professionals should be ready to articulate the experiences of their front-line clients (members or constituencies). By the way, people who work for nonprofits often don’t realize they do have personal stories. Jobs are very interesting to elected officials right now, so just working for a local nonprofit can in and of itself be a compelling ‘story.’”

      I dug deeper with Kush on this topic with the following question: In Part Five, you discuss the mistakes nonprofits make when meeting with lawmakers. What’s the most common among them? Here’s what Kush had to say:

      Don’t overwhelm with aggregate stats on your issue–anecdotal information does more: You are in a pretty good position if you are actually meeting with lawmakers, even if you stumble. The first mistake is to NOT regularly (at least once a year) talk to your federal, state and local lawmakers to let them know whom you are serving and what the local trends are related to your issues. Any service a nonprofit provides is one less service lawmakers might be asked to provide in their local offices. Nonprofits that are nervous about tax status can be mindful about not making any specific legislative requests when communicating with their elected officials. (Don’t discuss any current legislation.) The biggest mistake if you ARE meeting with your legislator is to rely on massive aggregate statistics to make your impact. Almost all elected officials are far more engaged by small numbers–the number of people who are being served locally, the number of local jobs you provide, the names of local board members, etc.–than they are by the bland large numbers we often rely on to impress.

      Watch for more Page to Practice interview highlights in our next blog.

      See also:

      One-Hour Activist Page to Practice feature

      Christopher Kush and Soapbox Consulting

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      Using Facebook as an advocacy tool

      While it’s natural to assume that social media has permeated all aspects of business, nothing rivals face-to-face meetings in grassroots advocacy, says The One-Hour Activist author and Soapbox Consulting CEO, Christopher Kush. I caught up with Kush in our interview and asked about the popularity of email and other social media. He cited one client in particular that used Facebook to generate interest in face-to-face advocacy events. Here’s the excerpt:

      CausePlanet: In Part Two, you present several helpful sections on writing an effective letter or email to your legislator so it gets read and circulated versus simply counted. Additionally, you cover skillful phone calls. Since the book was published, have communication preferences changed at all with the growing prevalence of email? And, are faxes still viable? (All coming in second to face-to-face, of course.)

      Kush: It is fascinating how face-to-face interactions with lawmakers have remained powerful despite the social media explosion. Candidates for office love the prospect of clever video appeals “going viral,” but after the elections, the legislative process has proven difficult for social media to manipulate. I think one reason is that some core aspects of social media are a mismatch with legislative influence. Things like anonymity, speed of communication, depth of understanding and lack of geographic awareness all mitigate against social media’s effectiveness in the Capitol.

      And now for some praise: This year, I saw several of my clients use Facebook to generate interest in face-to-face advocacy events. The Fragile X Foundation in particular was able to double the number of families who attended their 2012 Washington, DC, conference by providing a place where people could post their excitement about returning to the conference, seeing other folks they had met the year before, and following up in person with their legislators. Now, that was an example of social media making a strategic contribution by complementing more traditional approaches to influence (like face-to-face interaction).

      See also:

      Charity Case

      The One-Hour Activist

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      Eight must-know grassroots concepts

      For every position there is an opposition. It’s what makes our democracy work. If you lead a nonprofit organization, there’s no doubt an issue or candidate can influence how effectively you raise money or advocate for systemic change. Some even argue an investment in advocacy is an “upstream solution” and preferable to isolated direct service downstream.

      The One-Hour Activist: The 15 Most Powerful Actions You Can Take to Fight for the Issues and Candidates You Care About presents a nonpartisan, thorough checklist of tactical best practices for engaging in advocacy on behalf of issues and candidates you care about.

      Author Christopher Kush has distilled the essential activities that will help you understand how your letter, email or request for a face-to-face meeting with your lawmaker can be heard above the noise. He covers nuances in relating to your elected officials, leveraging the media, navigating public hearings, analyzing bills, joining public interest groups and much more. The book title may say 15, but Kush highlights 20 specific actions that can advance your cause.

      In Part One of Kush’s book, he emphasizes eight important grassroots concepts and I’ll share them with you:

      1) Voting isn’t enough. Once you’ve gotten your candidate elected, you can’t expect issues to go your way; the work has only begun.
      2) Geography is the single most important thing about you and your issue. If you live in the elected official’s district, he/she wants to make you happy. Period.
      3) One angry letter won’t change the world.
      4) Instant grassroots (like signing online petitions) is not especially effective. Personalized letters with individual anecdotes and stories are.
      5) Money is part of the game. If you refuse to take out your checkbook, you’re leaving an important weapon out of your arsenal.
      6) Elected officials are real people with all the complexity and imperfection that implies. Genuinely try to understand who your elected officials are.
      7) One successful grassroots campaign will not settle your issues once and for all. The issues worth fighting for will be ongoing, long-term battles.
      8) “Staying on message” is the ultimate law of grassroots activism. Everyone who cares about a given issue must make the same exact request, no matter how individualized his/her justification for that request is.

      Watch for more highlights in the coming weeks about The One-Hour Activist by Christopher Kush.

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      Bridge the gap between your service and advocacy

      This post is the third in a series on advocacy and offers relevant Page to Practice™ book summaries and articles at the end of the first article and second article.

      In our monthly virtual book club last week, we had coauthor of Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits, Heather Grant, participate. One of our attendees said, “Nothing beats actually hearing the author explain his/her insights on a subject.” I agree.

      Start at the beginning. One of the six best practices we spent some time discussing with Grant was first on the list of high-impact nonprofits: bridging the gap between service and advocacy. Several EDs in the group commiserated with one another about how this was a neglected area which needed improvement.

      Systemic change requires more. In Forces for Good, Crutchfield and Grant explain that great nonprofits realize that, in order to achieve higher levels of impact, they need to bridge the gap between advocacy and service. They may start out providing great programs, but eventually realize that they cannot make systemic change without also engaging in advocacy. Others start out doing advocacy and then add programs to catalyze their strategy.

      Bridge the divide. Providing services helps meet immediate needs, such as feeding the hungry or housing the poor; advocacy helps reform larger systems by changing public behavior or creating governmental solutions. High-impact nonprofits bridge the divide between advocacy and service. Although policy advocacy can be an incredibly powerful tool for creating large-scale social change, many nonprofits shy away from it.

      Create a virtuous cycle. Some of the reasons for their hesitation include the fact that advocacy is difficult to manage and requires different organizational skills than those needed to provide direct services. In addition, it is challenging to measure results of advocacy efforts. However, the authors discovered that simultaneously doing both creates a virtuous cycle. Instead of causing the organization to lose focus or lessening its impact, engaging in both service and advocacy can create an impact that is greater than the sum of its parts. It is no surprise, then, that all the organizations in the book have engaged in both.

      Here are three ways to bridge the divide:

      1. Start with service, add advocacy. The majority of organizations in the book began with direct service, or programs, and adopted policy advocacy well after they were founded. The underlying reason why they decided to engage in advocacy was the same: They wanted to have more impact on the problems they were trying to solve.

      2. Start with advocacy, add service or programs. Starting out with policy advocacy is especially effective when an organization is relatively small in relation to the level of impact it seeks to achieve.

      3. Combine service and advocacy from the outset. The authors observed two main patterns among the organizations that combined both from the beginning: a) Leaders knew that replicating programs site by site, with private funding, would never take them to the level of change they were seeking; and b) Leaders also shared a common philosophical belief that government should be a part of the solution. Policy reform sends a signal to the rest of the nation that the changes these organizations propose are important enough for society as a whole to adopt.

      Watch for part four of our advocacy series when we highlight how high impact nonprofits are successfully combining approaches of service and advocacy.

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      Advocacy: Begin with an approach that fits your nonprofit

      This article is the second in a series on legislative relations.

      Engaging in advocacy is one of the most effective ways for your nonprofit to achieve its mission. By augmenting the services and programs you provide with an active voice for change, you can meet the need while working to affect the systems creating the need. Although it can seem daunting, advocacy programs complement and enhance the work you already accomplish. There is a range of ways for your nonprofit to create change in your community or state.

      When deciding which advocacy strategy is the best fit for your organization, consider these three approaches as a starting place:

      Voter engagement: Constituents of nonprofit organizations are often underrepresented at the ballot box even though they are directly impacted by changes in safety net programs, education cuts and health care eligibility measures, to name a few. Voter registration is a powerful way to ensure ballot issues and candidates for office reflect the values and vision of your organization. Not only can you increase the power of your voice, but it can be a great way to build relationships with politicians and ballot issue leaders through asking them to speak to your constituents about their platform or issue. Although 501(c)3 organizations cannot endorse or publicly support a candidate for office, you can (and should!) educate your constituents on how candidates’ positions affect your mission. A great resource for involving your nonprofit in voter engagement is Nonprofit VOTE.

      Grassroots advocacy: Once your constituents are informed on the issue affecting your mission, encourage them to tell others. Ask them to speak to local businesses, neighbors and others who share in the vision for your community and encourage them to support issues that benefit your organization. Taken one step further, you may want to offer your constituents an email or phone script to call their representatives to express their support or perspective on the issue. Through empowering your members, donors, clients and other constituents to make their voices heard by public officials, you are not only building the strength of your organization but also providing a valuable service to those who feel passionately about your mission. Speaking up as one individual can be intimidating, but speaking as one voice of many is an inspiring experience. Many states have a nonprofit participation project that can serve as your grassroots advocacy resource.

      Direct lobbying: The highest level of engagement in nonprofit advocacy (besides running for office– consider it!) involves working with the state or federal government to inform and influence policies. There are some limitations placed on the amount of resources 501(c)3 organizations can dedicate to direct lobbying. The Center for Lobbying in the Public Interest is a great resource. Direct lobbying may involve tracking bills and providing testimony in hearings. A staff member, board member or lobbyist may provide information or perspective on a bill through meetings with representatives or their staff. This is hugely valuable to those who represent us at the capitol, since legislators cannot possibly be fully informed on all the issues they weigh in on. Leaders of nonprofits are oftentimes uniquely informed on how a bill will affect their community. Sharing that insight through a fact sheet, one-on-one meetings or committee testimony can change the course of a conversation or give a bill the boost it needs to be successful.

      These three categories are not mutually exclusive. Through the promotion of a voter engagement campaign, you may hear stories from your constituents on how an issue affects them and decide to offer testimony to share those stories with legislators. While tracking the progress of a bill, it may benefit your organization to employ grassroots techniques to show those voting on the bill how those in their district feel. Regardless of how you engage and how often, there are a few basics your organization should have in place before starting to take action:

      1. Determine key goals, values and priorities to guide your work. What is the end result you are trying to achieve through engaging in advocacy? Clarifying priorities at the outset will help your board and staff determine which areas to invest the most resources. For instance, a children’s health-related nonprofit may have several areas of policy that directly affect their mission: poverty, education, healthcare policy. To what extent does the organization actively participate in all three? Your nonprofit’s leadership may decide that although bills related
      to health in school are important, you prioritize bills that affect primary care.

      2. Cultivate partners and build like-minded coalitions. Chances are there are other nonprofits in your community that have similar goals but different priorities. Building partnerships around overlapping issues can benefit all involved. Rather than actively promoting a bill or ballot issue in your constituency, you may offer your support to a partnering organization for which the bill is a top priority. When a priority issue directly affecting your mission surfaces, you can then ask your partners for the same level of support, demonstrating a stronger coalition of support than each organization can offer on its own. Although members of an advocacy coalition may disagree on an issue at times, the benefits of working together most often outweigh the obstacles. And when an issue directly affects many of the members of the coalition, the support and organization of the whole is a boon to the cause.

      3. Get ready to communicate. Don’t assume just because you’ve testified at the capitol or registered 2,000 voters that people are aware of your activities. Share your goals, successes and struggles with donors, institutional funders and the media. If possible, include updates and calls to action in newsletters and at staff and board meetings. Let those who support you know why what you’re doing is important. It encourages our communities to value nonprofit engagement in advocacy and most importantly, empowers others to take action.

      See also:

      Do More Than Give: The Six Practices of Donors Who Change the World

      The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting with Social Media to Drive Change

      Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits

      Level Best: How Small and Grassroots Nonprofits Can Tackle Evaluation and Talk Results



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