“I helped put a man on the moon”: Using advocacy to create “we” in your organization

You’ve seen that picture, right?

What I thought about, when I saw it, is not just what it says about our President, but what it says about how we should view all who work within our organizations (and, by ‘work’, I mean all whose presence is essential to our success, including our volunteers and our clients, too).

It’s about who we consider to be part of the “we”.

There’s a story in Zilch about a janitor at NASA who, when asked to describe his job, said that he helped to put a man on the moon.

And, of course, in a very real way, he did.

You try figuring out rocket science if the bathrooms are filthy.

Yet we know that, all too often, there are so many divisions in our organizations, divisions that mirror those in our society.

We split up, the clinical staff and the administrators; the children’s services and the adults; the ‘professional’ and the whatever we call the others (if you can’t tell, I really don’t like that particular dichotomy).

And those barriers should bother us not just because we have an ideological resistance to categorizing and labeling like that, but also because we know that organizations that don’t coalesce, that lack a common purpose around which everyone can unite, are organizations that just don’t do as well in reaching their visions.

And, so, the picture of the President fist-bumping the janitor makes me think about what we might do to truly bring everyone within our organizations into the work.

How can we enlarge our ‘we’, and how can we make people feel that collective identity more fervently and more deeply?

Perhaps not surprisingly, I think that advocacy holds part of the answer to that.

What if we invited all of our direct service staff to participate in our advocacy priorities? What if we wove advocacy responsibilities into everyone’s job description, along with the time to do it? What if we gave all of our employees time every year to do nonpartisan voter work, for example, or to go to the state capitol? What if everyone–our CEOs and our receptionists and our facilities managers–was evaluated, in part, on the degree to which they effectively engaged in social change activities consistent with the organization’s mission?

What if we were explicit about our ‘we’ including everyone, and intentional about how we communicate that?

Some of the advocacy technical assistance work I’m doing for nonprofit organizations centers around these questions, and here are some of the ways we’re approaching it. I’d love to hear from you, though, about how you bring all of your organizational constituencies into your advocacy, and about how you use advocacy to create and sustain the sense of ‘we’.

  • Integrating advocacy into organizational job descriptions, not to add work to everyone’s plates, but to find ways to transition current activities into those with some advocacy implications
  • Using surveys and focus groups to include the perspectives of staff, clients, and volunteers in the shaping of the organization’s advocacy agenda–because there’s no reason we should craft our priorities behind closed Board room doors
  • Weaving advocacy training into professional development opportunities for staff at all levels of the organization, to ensure that they have what they need to succeed in expanded roles
  • Incorporating ‘case-to-cause’ content in service reviews, to help staff connect clients’ presenting problems to the underlying community conditions that sustain them, so that every client interaction is shaped by an understanding of the systemic issues at work
  • Using root cause analyses, often as staff lunch-and-learns, to facilitate discovery of the the big systems that create and sustain the needs we continue to address through direct services
  • Creating Advocacy Task Forces that bring staff, Board members, and volunteers together–during work time, usually quarterly–to allow those with great passion for advocacy to lead the organization’s efforts

Are you seizing the opportunities to bring your whole organization into your ‘we’? How would your key players–all of them–describe their work and its impact? And how can advocacy make each day about something even larger than ourselves?

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