Adding value for your advocates

This was a Community Organizer 2.0 post that I liked so much I immediately went and ‘liked’ the organization that she highlighted, even though it’s a public library on the other side of the country.

It was that cool.

The point of the post is in the title: “The intersection of you and them is value”, and the example she used, the Seattle Public Library, really does embody that, using their social media space to provide what they know their ‘public’ needs and wants–in this case (and mine, which is why I went and sought them out immediately), book recommendations.

And I think there’s an important lesson in there for us as nonprofit organizations trying to get our constituencies engaged in advocacy, too. What value do we have to add, that meets the needs of those we’re trying to mobilize? How are we, perhaps, uniquely poised to do this as social service providers also working for social change, if we rethink who we define as ‘client’ and ‘advocate’, and find ways to just relate to people as people.

When I thought about this in the context of my own nonprofit clients and the advocacy technical assistance I provide them, I came up with several examples of how organizations are doing this, which I figure will be more helpful than just my ideas about what would be awesome, theoretically.

But I’m hoping that you’ll have more ideas, and more examples; once we really ‘get’ this, about how it has to be about both of us–the organization’s interests and the needs and priorities of those we hope to engage–we’ll really be adding mutual value, and that’s where passion and commitment thrive.

  • One of my clients provides a legislative ‘sneak peek’ to their advocates, bringing in allied lobbyists and some public officials to give people an inside look at what is expected in the session. Many of their organizational colleagues attend, since they need to have this big picture for their own work, and then the organization uses it as an opportunity to appeal for partnerships around their key issues. Another organization does something similar, hosting regular ‘behind-the-scenes’ looks at policymaking for students interested in the political process.
  • An immigrant rights organization working primarily with immigrant students provides the service of scholarship search and assistance with essays, for those with whom they’re organizing. They have also partnered with immigration attorneys to provide free legal advice.
  • Harvesters, the regional food bank organization, provides a space for people to host birthday parties and other events, including corporate bonding activities, while providing service to combat hunger. Now that we’re integrating a call to advocacy action into these activities, it’s a tremendous mutual value. People need good ideas for fun activities to do together, and Harvesters needs the labor and the additional people educated and mobilized in support of food security.
  • A children’s advocacy organization provides information about child development to parents advocating for early childhood programming, since all parents crave information about how to best support their children. They weave messages into the information about how important it is for parents to have early childhood supports, in order to prepare their children for success in life.
  • A mental health center provides information about mental illness at key times throughout the calendar year (not just ‘mental health month’); there are programs for clients, volunteers, and the general community about stress and the holidays, children’s mental health around back-to-school, and grief and loss around Mothers’ and Fathers’ Days. They use these community education sessions to break down stigma around mental illness, too, one of their key advocacy objectives.

What else? What does your organization have that’s valuable, that you can offer to those you want to advocate alongside you? How does looking at your relationship this way–as a mutual exchange in support of mutual satisfaction–change the calculus? What do you already do that adds value for your constituents? How can you increase these efforts, to strengthen your relationship and even bring new supporters to your cause?

2 responses to “Adding value for your advocates

  1. Melissa,
    Thanks for referring to my article, but boy did you expand it beautifully. I loved the examples, and was especially taken with how Harvesters offers its space for birthday parties. In addition to value, what a way to create a different connecting experience with stakeholders and offer new ways to connect with the organization. I think you’ve set me off on a mission to ID and find more organizations doing this…thanks! Debra

    • Thanks so much, Debra! You were totally the inspiration! My oldest son is having a back-to-school party at Harvesters, and I remarked to them that I have been trumpeting them so much, as a result–a real example of where an organization can help me with something, and get so much good will in return! It’s not only connection, to me, it’s real mutuality; I feel that I ‘owe’ them, in a meaningful way, and that changes the equation.

      I hope you’re well–would still love to connect via Skype or call!

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