One of my favorite people I get to work with–an awesome organizer and truly terrific person–is Jake Lowen, senior partner at Kansas Grassroots (which you should totally hire if you need a grassroots strategy for your social change goals, which you probably do).
And he told a story during a training a few months ago that has stuck with me, maybe because my husband worked at Long John Silver’s during high school for awhile, and I’ll never forget how truly crazy people get about their fish on Fridays during Lent.
But Jake’s story was about how Long John Silver’s has customers ring a bell on the way out the door, and his question was about how we capture that same energy from those that we serve, on their way out.
He was talking about how organizations collect (and, often, don’t) stories about those they serve, in order to deploy those narratives in social change campaigns. And his point was that we need to develop systems that, before we spend much energy going out to find and engage new advocates, ‘plug the holes’ so that we’re not losing the evidence of the impact we have, as it literally walks away from us.
And I have been thinking about that, since, in reference to organizations’ hesitancy to look to their clients first, when they’re seeking out advocates. I mean, why would we not consider those who have just been helped by our work, those whose fates are most inextricably connected to our own, those who are the greatest experts in the situations they face, as our first and greatest hopes for social change?
Why do we spend so much more energy (and even money) coming up with messages that we think can convince others to care about our issues, instead of first investing in the advocacy capacity of those who already care, very much?
Why do we have systems (sometimes elaborate and expensive ones) to figure out how the ‘general public’ feels about our work, and about us, but have seldom institutionalized a culture that moves people from clients to constituents to stakeholders?
What would it take to make sure that our clients are ‘ringing the bell’ every time they leave, telling us their story and capturing the impact that our services have had on their lives?
And what difference could it make, if there was that much bell ringing going on?