Tag Archives: social media

The Way We Advocate

I am helping to write a revised edition of a policy textbook and, as part of the instructors’ materials that will accompany it, the primary author wanted me to highlight some advocacy campaigns that are effectively using social media.

And, the thing is, I was kind of stumped.

Not because I couldn’t think of any good examples, but because, today, I don’t really see very many advocacy campaigns that aren’t integrating online and, in particular, social components into their work.

Even in the time since I started this blog, four years ago, social media’s role in advocacy has changed dramatically. For most of the organizations with which I work, it’s no longer a question of ‘experimenting’ with online outreach or perfunctorily adding a Twitter account.

Most often, the social media that is such a part of how we inform and engage today is woven into every aspect of our advocacy, too.

Social media and online activity have changed nonprofit advocacy so thoroughly that it’s difficult to even disaggregate the two, really.

There are instances where the social advocacy comes first, then the nonprofit (Moms Demand Action).

There are nonprofits whose advocacy happens almost entirely online, especially in the international arena.

There are advocacy efforts with outsized impact, because they are so good at making their power echo online, and others that have somewhat fallen from relevance, because they haven’t figured out how to leverage their assets in the online realm.

It’s how we advocate.

It’s who we are.

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?

Levels of campaign engagement


One of the moments when I’m talking with a group of nonprofit executives or Board members and heads start nodding (in a good way, people!) is when I talk about levels of engagement.

We often fall into thinking that all of our advocates have to act a certain way, or be at a certain ‘level’, when, really, we should be building campaigns such that there is room (and need) for all types of engagement. Indeed, when we get really sophisticated, we can incorporate explicit strategies for moving people along our ladders of engagement, such that we have a clear understanding of where someone is today and what it might take to get them to ‘step it up’ a bit. That’s far more successful than using the same pitch to everyone, or expecting everyone to engage in the same actions, and then throwing our hands up, despairing about ‘apathy’, when we don’t get an enthusiastic response to all of our appeals.

Community Organizer 2.0 had a post about levels of community leadership and what metrics we might look for to define that continuum in today’s online world. She stresses the importance of understanding how relationships and network centrality fit into leadership, and what that looks like in an increasingly networked world (sort of the ‘who you know’ variable, operationalized). And she has a ladder of engagement, so to speak, for online communities, from Lurkers to Opportunists to Contributors to Creators.

There are established models of ladders of campaign engagement in the offline world, but I have been thinking about how Debra’s translation of ‘community engagement’ to the online world would look in an advocacy context. Because we can really only move people to the extent to which we understand both where they are today and what it would look like if they moved to where we want them to be, we have to know how to recognize both of those ‘states’, and what indicators to look for.

So, this is my attempt to make that connection.

  • Lurkers: These are folks who are reading what you put out, reaping the benefits of what is happening in the campaign, but they may also be willing to make a minimal investment, especially if you structure it as a transaction. They sign up for your lists but may never take action. Certainly, if you don’t ask a lurker to do anything, he/she won’t, so I think that explicit asks are essential with this group, even though your uptake rate will probably be low. Lurkers can be thought of, I think, as ‘Coasters’, in advocacy, so if we can switch the default so that advocacy is nearly effortless, they may find themselves capable of being mobilized, after all. It’s tempting just to broadcast to these folks, but we need to try to find hooks that will bring them out of the woodwork, because that can become habit-forming too. Think: petition signatures, urgent calls to action that can break through the barrier, long-term attitude change, goals of seeding new ways of thinking
  • Opportunists: These folks may have stumbled on your effort, or may be lurkers who just happen to be moved by something you put out, at the particular time when they encountered it. They stay on your lists, occasionally ‘like’ blog posts, might check in at an event. Again, making things easy is key, but, so, too, I think, is creating the appearance of momentum, since opportunists want to go along for the ride. To the extent to which you can make it seem like others are already on board, these folks may hop on too, hence their ‘Tag-a-long’ title. Think: email letters, forwards, petitions
  • Contributors: I think one of our greatest failings as nonprofit advocates is not being quick enough to recognize those really ready to build something with us. Maybe it’s because we encounter so many more lurkers and opportunists (Debra puts them, collectively, at up to 80-90% of your community), or maybe because, inside, we have a hard time ceding control, but nothing turns a would-be contributor off like getting the implied message “your input really isn’t welcome here”. These folks want to contribute, after all, so we need to be asking for their feedback and really using it. They are already engaged, providing comments and responding to alerts and probably taking other action that we aren’t even capturing. These are your ‘Allies’, in that they are ready to stand with your cause, even if they don’t yet really see it as their own. Think: surveys, contests, opportunities to share
  • Creators: These are the folks who have really achieved ‘free agent’ status; while you might see them as still a part of your movement (and they may even be OK with that), you’re somewhat irrelevant to them at this point. This is their cause now. They are talking about it–which we’d know, if we listened to their online presence–and they want to be empowered to own the work. These are your ‘Champions’, off and running, if we don’t get in their way. Which, unfortunately, we do, all too often. These folks want to create video testimonies, recruit other leaders, merge their personal online presence with that of your organization, compose key messages, help design campaigns. We need to let them.

Building a ladder of engagement in your campaigns, then, means ensuring that we have ways for folks to join in, and move up, at any point along the continuum. Our online appeals, in particular, need to speak to all of these folks, variously, in targeted ways. The beautiful thing, of course, is that you don’t need a team of 100% champions, so that doesn’t need to be your goal. Instead, we need to think about how we are going to move our issue, who is positioned to carry the work forward, and who we need to bring on or push up, in order to get to our goals.

When you think about your advocacy work according to this framework, how are you reaching out to people at various points on the ladder? Are you setting the bar low enough, sometimes, that you can bring coasters and tag-a-longs with you? Are you unintentionally alienating your allies and champions, because they don’t see that their dedication is really valued or needed?

PS. I am TOTALLY open to different characterizations of these ‘levels’, different names, different ideas about how to approach people at each level. Basically, to critique and addition and dialogue about any and all of it. I appreciate you in advance.

Thank you gifts: Wonderful Stuff to Share

This week is my blog-a-versary, or whatever you’d call that, so today’s post is just great stuff that I want to share.

I am grateful for you, and for what you’ve allowed me to do over these past four years, and, well, I like to share cool things.


  • The awesome women at MomsRising created the coolest online advocacy tool I’ve ever seen this year for Valentine’s Day. You could create a Valentine to send to your members of Congress, asking for stronger gun control laws. And, as you’ll see, you can ‘decorate’ it electronically, making it the perfect advocacy project for, say, a 30-something mom and her 4.5-year-old daughter who loves hearts and sparkles. THIS is how you do advocacy with parents, people–asking them to take 3 minutes to do something fun with their children that teaches critical messages about social change. They’re going to the top of the end-of-the-year donation list again.
  • This American Life really outdid itself with the two-part series on Harper High School in Chicago. I am, actually, a TAL fanatic, guilty of using up almost all my data minutes just for streaming TAL on my phone, but this feature on the impact of gun violence on teenagers in Chicago, and on a school in particular, was extraordinarily gripping. It provoked an extra 3 miles on the treadmill because I couldn’t stop listening. Yes, that good.
  • I get posts from epolitics delivered to my email inbox and, while I don’t often share them here, because it’s a bit beyond the niche of this blog, I’m really fascinated by the research analyzing the role of social media and online engagement in shaping how Americans do politics, today, and what that means for all of us, tomorrow. Plus, it helps me understand what wonky tech people are talking about.
  • IREHR, always good for a buzz kill. On Kansas Day this year (yes, there’s a day, people; we celebrate it in school), my good friend Lenny was asked to speak about racism and anti-Semitism in Kansas history. And that’s what makes him, and the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, which he heads, so important. They remind us of the parts of ourselves we’d rather forget, so that, in remembering, we have a chance to overcome. More than a few times, he’s pointed out how a given politician I’m trying to build an alliance with is a radical with ties to white nationalism. On a road trip once, he pointed out a Christian Identity trucking company. It’s a big burden to carry, this immersion in the nasty sides of everything, but he does it for our own good. And I’m grateful.
  • The award for best email subject line ever goes to Communities Creating Opportunities’ 2013 Covenant for Families initiative, which sent me an action alert this spring titled, “Woe to those who make unjust laws.” That is an awesome use of the prophet Isaiah. Even better is what they’re doing to engage people of faith in social justice work, now across the state of Kansas, where we can use some woe-bringing.
  • Having a great state representative is pretty terrific, really. I am so glad to call Representative Barbara Bollier my elected official. She’s smart, hard-working, and not afraid to take stands on controversial issues. She’s also extremely accessible and quite selfless. Yes, there are still really good people willing to run for office. And I’m glad.

Is there anything you’d like to share, in the cause of well-wishing? The only thing better than my list of wonderful stuff is that list with yours added to it.

Measuring the Networked Nonprofit

I recently read Beth Kanter’s new book (with coauthor Katie Delahaye Paine): Measuring the Networked Nonprofit.

For me, it was even richer in applicable content and nonprofit inspiration than The Networked Nonprofit, maybe because I am sort of an evaluation geek, or maybe because it’s exciting to see how the field is advancing, and how much more we know about how working in new ways can advance nonprofit missions.

I will be working some of my favorite pieces from the book into posts over the next several weeks–I have sticky notes with citations all over my desk at this point–but, here, in this season of giving, I have some key concepts from the book and an offer to give away the extra copy of it I bought, to one randomly-selected person who leaves a comment about an evaluation question to which they wish they had the answer, for their nonprofit organization’s work.

The best part about the book is the way that it simultaneously demystifies and exalts measurement and learning. Here, it is accessible and valued, integral, but not scary. While a lot of the tips and tools help people think about how to measure what they’re doing with social media, really, the evaluation approach is valuable far beyond that aspect of nonprofit operations.

To get you thinking about measurement within your organization, think about:

  • Networked nonprofits measure failure first. Failure is more interesting, in some ways, and studying it can yield tremendous insights, if we learn not to avert our eyes.
  • We should experiment. When was the last time you deliberately tried something out, within your nonprofit, to see how it would work? If we weren’t afraid to fail, and if we started with questions we want to learn, then we would. The book has some very specific questions to identify opportunities to experiment with research questions and methods. I’d love to hear what you try.
  • Key performance indicators are what really matters. We have to figure out what we really want to know, and measure that, with a laser focus and a blind eye to much of the rest. As the authors say, “likes on Facebook is not a victory–social change is.” We have to be careful not to confuse means with ends, and this book helped me with that very important lesson.
  • Knowing more can improve our quality of life and that elusive ‘balance’, if we use data to figure out what we should really prioritize, instead of trying to do everything that sounds like a good idea. What headline would you most like to read about your work? Aim at that, and, probably, other things aren’t really that important.
  • It really is awesome to learn what evaluation and measurement can teach us. As one of the nonprofit leaders quoted in the book said, it’s really fascinating to learn what is fascinating to other people. That’s what measurement can tell us. We should care how many people like our Facebook status or follow our blog or sign up for our action alerts, not because it’s innately interesting that they did those specific things, but because that tells us something really fundamental about what people care about, and what they’re willing to do about the things they care about.

There’s a cool peer learning site that accompanies the book, definitely worth checking out as you make initial forays into measuring your social reach and real impact. If you’re still skeptical, read the list on p. 45. If you’re still, still skeptical, read some of the inspiring case studies about organizations that get it, and how measurement is making a difference for them.

You’ll become a measurement geek, too.