As part of my volunteer work for a new Idealist initiative, the Local Org Outreach Program (LOOP), I wanted to learn more about what could be done to better advocate for the nonprofit organizations that improve my local community. Advocacy is vital to the longevity of any nonprofit as these organizations need champions fighting for them in the community. I recently attended a presentation by the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits in beautiful uptown Charlotte in an effort to gain a broader picture of the status of NC nonprofit organizations.
The Center offered these forums in the format of a town hall across the state over the last few months, bringing together employees from local nonprofits and foundations to network, share, and learn. A diverse sampling of area nonprofit organizations was represented by attendees, including Foundation for the Carolinas, ToolBank Charlotte, Children’s Home Society of NC, Second Harvest Food Bank, the USO, and many more. The underlying theme of advocacy became clear when guest panelists NC Representative Becky Carney and Senator Joel Ford took the stage. Here are my takeaways I’d like to share with you in the hopes of motivating you to do some advocating in your area.
1.Talk to others about your favorite organizations.
Yes, it really is that easy. Whether it is your employer or an agency you volunteer with, nonprofit organizations need you to help spread the word of their good work! Know your organization’s mission, history, successes and needs. Practice your “elevator speech” – a brief statement summing up the “must know” highlights. Then, be ready to share that with anyone you meet. Having a business card, brochure, or postcard to share will keep your organization on your new friend’s mind, too. See, it is easy - and free!
In the midst of one of the more interesting presidential elections in recent history, it is a good reminder of the connection between voting and advocacy. But what does “voterize” mean? According to David Heinen, N.C. Center for Nonprofits’ Vice President of Public Policy & Advocacy, to “voterize” is to engage your nonprofit’s constituents in nonpartisan voting, which research shows has a positive effect on motivating voters and increasing voter turnout. Check out these websites for further information and inspiration: Council of Nonprofits, Nonprofitvote.org, and Bolderadvocacy.org.
3.Communicate with your state and local representatives.
According to the advice offered by panelists NC Representative Carney and Senator Ford, don’t just use a form letter. Take the time to identify the right person to contact for your issue. Personalize your communication. If sending an email, get the recipient’s attention in the subject line to help your message stand out. For example, try writing, “a message from your constituent in Charlotte.” Share your personal story. You will be able to connect with many elected officials on social media, but it was mentioned – and this may be hard to believe - that some legislators still prefer in-person meetings! Take the time to learn who your representatives are and the best way to contact them, and go for it!
4.Use your voice!
“Either you’re at the table – or you’re on the menu!” This quote from the event really struck a chord with me. Translation? In the nonprofit world, if you do not speak out for your organization and your clients’ needs, decisions will be made for you. Learn to speak out and let your voice be heard. You have a voice! Be that advocate for the work your organization does - and for those you serve who may not have a voice.
Now that you are fired up and ready to speak up, do not hesitate. Get involved today and become an advocate to change your community for the better!
About the Author: Michelle Calvert, MPA, is a Professional Trainer and NC Certified Parent Educator. She has worked in child welfare for over 14 years, as an adoption and foster care worker, a Family Finding Specialist, and now as a trainer. Michelle’s interest in youth permanency began at an early age as she learned about her own mother’s experiences growing up in foster care and the rippling effects this had on her mother’s life and family. This led Michelle to devote her professional career to strengthening families and improving permanency outcomes for children in care.