Advocacy is Not a Dirty Word! Let’s Reclaim It.

Happy Holidays! Or so the saying goes….

Sometimes it’s hard to muster up happiness when our culture and society, and our own unrealistic expectations have us on perpetual over drive to create holiday cheer. It’s exhausting.

I’m laughing because as I write this I’m planning a holiday party of my own, and recognize all too well the signs of overwhelm that can set in when we try to do too much. Did I mention the week leading up to the party, we had water leaking from our ceiling, and 3 different repairmen working on 3 separate issues?

In some ways this is probably not unlike how you and the staff of your organization are feeling right now. Overwhelmed and under-resourced, barely able to keep up with the demands while also focusing on a push to increase year end giving to help fill some of the gaps in your budget.

Some of you may know that for the first 10 years of my career I practiced environmental public interest law before switching gears and going to work for Forefront. While I really enjoyed my job overall, I never enjoyed the part that focused on supporting nonprofits through advocacy trainings. Whether I was asked to participate in a conference, or we offered our own trainings, invariably I left feeling like I had landed in the middle of a conversation with no context AND a foreign language was being spoken. Everywhere I went, the conversations were often narrowly focused on either prescribing what you could do when talking to a lawmaker or telling you what you couldn’t do in advocacy.

I grew frustrated for the nonprofits that came to learn about advocacy. Anytime you’re teaching something new and focus exclusively on the negative, or narrowly on tactics like “how to talk to a lawmaker”, you’re promoting feelings of fearfulness and uncertainty along with the idea that advocacy is an occasional activity instead of a necessary one. And by focusing on tactics, it perpetuates the idea that advocacy resides within one person, which is not the case.

I really believe if the nonprofit sector is going to reclaim the power of advocacy we need to change the way we train nonprofits on it.

That’s why I started the Advocacy Collaborative to teach nonprofits a different way to do Advocacy.

Starting in 2017 I will be offering a new online approach to training nonprofit advocates that focuses less on fear and and more on how to truly create greater impact by focusing on 5 key aspects:

1. A motivational component. I’ve observed that more than anything nonprofits need motivation, support and understanding to be inspired enough to add advocacy to their plates. It’s such a challenging time for delivering on our mission and many nonprofit are feeling overwhelmed delivering on their current programs. They need to hear stories and understand or be reminded “why” and how advocacy is different than other strategies along with hearing stories of the difference that advocacy has made for other similar organizations.

2. A realistic assessment of your organization’s capacity. An understanding of what advocacy might “look like” for their nonprofit. Every organization is starting at a different place. Having a sense of what your organization’s advocacy path looks like is important for grounding any subsequent goals and commitments to advocacy. One of the biggest setbacks occurs when nonprofits underestimate how long it might take to achieve the impact they are looking for as well as how to measure the incremental success and progress they make along the way.

3. A road map to anchor advocacy within their organization. More than anything this is what I wish to provide to the nonprofits I work with. It’s a shift from viewing advocacy as a “drop in” and “drop out” tactical activity. In order to achieve the impact we long for while raising the stature and profile of our organization, we need to know this secret: advocacy doesn’t need to be difficult or complicated, but it does require a commitment. The commitment starts with adopting a plan.

4. Tools and strategies for confronting obstacles & building internal support. So often we focus only on what’s legally permissible, which is an important starting point, but that’s all it is. A starting point. Then we often jump to “here’s how to talk to a lawmaker.”

But there’s so much in between that needs to be understood including your organization’s goals with advocacy, along with how you will ensure successful outcomes once you actually start to engage in advancing a position publicly.

5. Training Multiple staff. This piece is so often overlooked, which is understandable. However, Unless multiple staff are attending a conference together or an organization is fortunate enough to bring someone in to train the entire staff, usually one staff person attends an advocacy training and is then expected to come back and “implement” what they learn. This is virtually impossible. It’s hard for one person trained in isolation to shift the entire culture of an organization. We need to normalize training multiple staff, including the Board in advocacy, even if it occurs over an extended period of time.

In 2017 I’ll be launching our first AdvocacyForward™ online training class—Demystifying Advocacy. The course is offered over 4 weeks and is intended to assess your organization’s readiness for advocacy and launch its learning and skills development while providing you with the framework for creating your own Advocacy Action Plan.

To learn more click here.

Please book in for a 30 minute phone call with Laurel to discuss your nonprofit’s Readiness for Advocacy here.

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