|Learn the importance of developing and maintaining an advocacy strategy to guide and support your work over the long term.|
Looking at the long term
Vision: seeing the whole.
Looking at the long term means having an ultimate goal, and a series of lesser goals along the way, the achievement of each of which will bring you closer to your destination. Reaching that ultimate goal is a journey that's as important as the destination. The long view is the view of that whole journey - of the length of it, the twists and turns, and the steps you have to take to reach the end.
Your vision for homelessness, for instance, might be to eliminate it entirely in your community. As a realist, you know you can't do that right away - it's too big a task, and the community is unlikely to be ready to take on the level of commitment necessary to accomplish it. (Remember how hard you had to work just to get those 15 beds and an outreach worker.)
Flexibility: an understanding that circumstances, needs, etc. will change over time, and that your advocacy may have to change in response to them.
You've already changed things by gaining the establishment of a family shelter and an outreach program. As a result, homelessness in the community may become a "hot-button" issue, and there may be far more funding available than you ever expected. Conversely, the number of homeless people in the community might still increase, or conditions might get worse for those without families.
Constant vigilance: maintaining your gains.
Often, changes are negative. Your issue may take a back seat to something that seems more important to policy makers at the time. Or they may think they've done enough, and that the issue is resolved. Whatever the reason, you may have to put out an enormous effort just to keep the gains you've made.
taking it slow. Most change is incremental - small step by small step - and takes longer than you expect it to. You have to continue your advocacy even when it seems that nothing is happening. It's often very difficult to tell just when and why an issue seeps into public consciousness, or becomes important to policy makers. They may be reacting to something they heard from you a year ago. Just keep at it - you never know when you'll have an impact.
keeping at it indefinitely. Just like the Energizer Bunny, you have to keep going and going and going... According to Woody Allen, 80% of success is showing up, and that's really what we're talking about here. You have to see advocacy as something that never stops. Politicians won't forget you if you contact them regularly, especially if you're offering information, rather than asking for something. The same is true for the media, or for that matter, for that employer who knows he'll have to deal with you if he abuses migrant workers, or continues to maintain an unsafe workplace. You have to be there, every day, for as long as it takes - that's what makes lasting change.
Even reaching the ultimate goal doesn't mark the end of advocacy. New goals may arise, and, just as with earlier gains, the final goal has to be maintained. If you allow yourself to think that you don't have to continue to remind policy makers and funders that your issue is important, or that the work your constituency does is both socially and economically crucial, you'll find yourself facing funding cuts and a lack of interest. In Boston, in the mid-to-late 90's, an anti-violence campaign reduced the youth homicide rate enormously. At one point, the city went more than a year without a youth-violence-related murder. Since everyone thought the problem was solved, much of the energy and attention that had gone into the campaign was diverted elsewhere...and the murder rate went right back up. Advocacy isn't a one-time thing - it's forever.
Planning for the long term
A participatory process - one in which everyone who might be involved in or affected by the effort participates as an equal partner - is an important element in creating a shared vision. Hashing out differences and coming to agreement about the endpoint and the goals of an advocacy effort may be difficult, but it will pay huge dividends in the long run.
Here are some important elements in developing a vision and strategies for carrying it out:
Consider the issue in context.
What role does it play in the community? In society as a whole? Given that context, what will you have to change in order to reach the ultimate resolution you envision?
- What is its history in the community? Have there been efforts to address it, and how successful were they? What have community attitudes toward homelessness been?
- What are some of the factors that might be causing it, and can they be addressed? (You probably can't do much about national or international economic trends, for example.)
- How do people in the community feel about the issue? Are they sympathetic? Angry? Frightened?
- Are there community assets or resources that could be turned toward addressing homelessness?
Anticipate trends and attitudes.
Looking at your issue in its historic context should also give you a picture of where it's going - in the public consciousness, in the ways it's addressed, etc. Again, using homelessness as an example, some questions you might ask:
- What are the community, state, and national trends in the way citizens and policy makers feel about and deal with homelessness?
- What are funders concentrating on, and in what direction are they moving? Services for the homeless mentally ill? Shelter beds? Affordable housing?
- How can you position yourself in the forefront of the trends you see? Can you use that position to lead policy makers, funders, and public opinion in the directions that you think they should be heading in order to eliminate homelessness?
- Where do you want things to go? It's important to remember that history and events aren't the only forces driving issues - your advocacy can be a driving force as well.
Develop short- and long-term objectives and strategies.
Considering context and anticipating trends and attitudes are both aimed at understanding the issue and its place in society as well as you can. Setting objectives and strategizing is the work of putting your knowledge and your goals together. It's mapping out a route to your long-term goals that includes the stops you'll have to make along the way.
- Pick short-term objectives that you're fairly certain can be reached in a reasonable amount of time. A series of modest successes will do a great deal to keep your allies and constituents motivated for the long term, philosophical about an occasional defeat, and willing to put out extra effort when there's a larger gain at stake.
- For each of your objectives, develop an action plan that includes a timeline for its accomplishment. Then follow it, making adjustments as they become necessary.
- Make sure your long-term goal can actually be achieved. As noted above, if the root cause of homelessness in your community is tied to the global economy, you're unlikely to be able to affect it.
Some goals may be worth pursuing regardless of whether they seem realistic or not. Permanent world peace has never come close to realization, but many people strive toward it, in the hope that their work will provide a base for that of others who may be successful, two or three or ten generations from now. If your issue is similar, you may choose to see "long-term" as longer than one, or perhaps many, individual lifetimes. All objectives in this situation will then be "short-term," even those that may take decades to achieve.Efforts like these are difficult to sustain, but they're not futile. Each generation learns a little bit more, and gets a little closer to the goal. These kinds of efforts have resulted, in the U.S., in a greater measure of equality for minorities and women, and, on a worldwide basis, in the creation of several bodies that have attempted to mediate among nations. The latest of these, the United Nations, may or may not ultimately be truly successful - but it has so far been more successful than its predecessors, and will provide a higher starting point for whatever comes next.
- Be proactive. Don't wait for the government or someone else to come up with a program to advocate for, or a bad suggestion to react against. Make your own proposals at each step of your long-term effort.
Preparing for the long term
Prepare yourself by getting organized
Getting organized can have different definitions in different situations. If you're already an organization, or part of one, you might want to review and refine your organizational structure. If you're part of a loosely organized grass roots group, it's time to add more structure to your effort, and to become a formal organization. If you're an individual, or part of a very small group, you may want to try to form a larger coalition as a base for long-term advocacy.
If you're embarking on a long-term advocacy campaign, one that may last for years, you're going to need a clear structure - i.e., a formal organization - to sustain it. Organizations come with their own set of problems - deciding whether there will be paid staff, finding money to pay them, finding appropriate space, recruiting a board, etc. - but the structure they provide can be the necessary ingredient in a successful effort. Grass roots groups often resist forming an "official" organization, in the fear that they will lose their community focus. The reality, however, is that they can build the community focus into any organization they create, while without a coordinated and coordinating structure, they are likely to lose all focus.
- Overall coordination. Someone or some small group has to coordinate the effort. A coordinator can assure that the group speaks with one voice, that the message is clear, that statements or actions come at the appropriate times, and that everyone involved knows what she has to do and when. A coordinator can also function as a clearinghouse for information, which leads to the next important area.
- Communication. It is absolutely crucial that any advocacy effort have a central communication point. That point is usually the coordinator, but could be some other individual or group, as long as everyone is clear that all communication needs to flow through the center. In this way, you'll know any statement issued by your group has been considered and approved, that information you receive or give out is accurate (or at least that someone has thought about it, and believes it to be accurate) and timely, and that everyone is contacted quickly when there's a need for action. Effective advocacy efforts function in many different ways, but none without reliable communication.
- Day-to-day management. Even if all your materials and labor are donated, someone has to find donors and volunteers, and coordinate their time. If a local business is delivering to you all the paper you'll ever need, someone has to be there to receive it at the right time, and has to store it somewhere. Volunteers won't last long if no one knows what they are supposed to do. Paid staff require supervision, coordination, and logistical support - and need to be paid on time, as do bills. If you're raising money from the community, that takes an orchestrated effort. If there's money passing through your organization, it has to be carefully recorded and tracked. Whether you're a large organization, a small grass roots group, or even an individual who only occasionally calls on the help of others, you can't avoid management issues.
Prepare and motivate allies and other supporters.
To sustain advocacy over the long term, it's important that everyone involved understand the nature of a long-term effort. Engaging in a participatory planning process, as described above, can help a great deal - if the people you depend on are part of the planning, they'll have a very clear picture of how long the effort might take, and what the intermediate steps are. In addition, they'll feel they own the effort, and be more likely to stay with it.
- Expect setbacks...but create success. You won't reach every benchmark, or convince policy makers that you're right every time. But if you to pick your battles and initiatives carefully, you'll be successful more often than not. That will help to keep allies working when something doesn't go well, because there's always the expectation that the next try will go better - after all, most of them have in the past.
- Maintain your enthusiasm. If you can continue to be optimistic and forward-looking even when things aren't going well, it will help to keep those around you thinking that way also.
- Be liberal with praise. People remain motivated when they know the work they do is valuable - they need to hear that they're doing a good job. It's up to you to tell them that constantly, and to praise them - individually and collectively, publicly and privately - for their efforts and their dedication.
Celebration of success goes along with praise as an agent that bonds people to the effort and keeps their fires stoked for the next push. A party or other recognition of success - either when you've reached a particular goal, or, sometimes, just to mark the fact that you've all been working hard - can bring people together and do much to prevent burnout, that ever-present threat to advocacy.
Prepare the public and policy makers.
Here's where having a good strategic plan can really help to guide your efforts. At every success, you have to make clear that this is only a step. Statements like "We won't rest until homelessness is history in this community," help to remind the public and policy makers that there's a long term goal at stake. The opening of the new shelter or program doesn't mean that the task is done - it's only one step in a long process.
Committing to the long term
An advocacy effort is all about people, but people take time and energy (and often money). Depending on the circumstances, you may need researchers, media contacts, public spokespersons, outreach workers, fundraisers, grant writers, phone callers, people to do the "grunt work" - stuffing envelopes, cleaning the office, answering the phone, tacking up posters, filing, fetching and carrying, etc. - and, as explained above, a coordinator to pull it all together.
Money will probably be necessary at least at some points in your long-term effort, and may be a constant issue. If you have even one staff person, you have to pay her. You'll need some supplies (paper, printer cartridges, etc.) to get the word out, a phone system (or at least a line or two), a computer and Internet service. You may have to pay rent for an office, pay for printing and/or media ads, transportation, and other "incidentals."
The key to sustaining funding is diversification. While you should certainly seek and accept large donations, it's a good idea to build a funding base from many sources, so that the loss of any one doesn't cripple your effort.
Two kinds of time come into play here. First, and more simply, people have to have (and give) the time to make the effort successful. Staff and volunteers have to provide enough hours to make any action effective, and have to be willing to stay with the effort over the long term - years, or even decades - to see their work bear fruit.
Drive to continue the effort
The word passion is not used lightly here. Real commitment to a cause - and that's generally a characteristic of persistent advocates and advocacy organizations - comes from a passionate belief in its usefulness or practical necessity or justice or moral rightness. In general, advocates are people who care deeply about what happens in the world, and are willing to put their money where their mouths are to improve conditions or right wrongs. That passion supplies the drive we're talking about here, and is a quality you should be looking for in volunteers and staff, and a quality that should be nurtured and maintained in anyone involved with your effort.
Your plan should be constantly in play, and revisited at least annually for readjustment (see below). At the same time, you should make a plan for the coming year that fits into the larger plan. The annual plan may already be part of your strategy, something you've been looking forward to for a while. Or it may be a new strategy that grew out of new events or possibilities. Whatever the case, an annual plan serves to keep the focus on what's happening now, as well as what might happen in the future, and to keep people from getting frustrated at how far away the ultimate goal seems to be.
Reevaluation and adjustment of the plan
There are four chapters of the Tool Box - 36, 37, 38, and 39, a total of 31 sections - devoted to evaluation of programs and initiatives. You don't have to do a full evaluation every time you look at your effort; if you're small or strapped for resources, you may never do one. You can, however, ask the kinds of questions suggested above, and use reactions from stakeholders and others in the community, as well as your own impressions, to get reasonably accurate answers.
Maintenance of past gains and of the effort as a whole
- A vision that looks at the whole road ahead, both the intermediate achievements and the ultimate goal.
- The flexibility to change short-term goals and objectives in response to changes in circumstances and needs, while still keeping hold of the vision.
- The vigilance to maintain gains and address threats and opposition.
- The patience to keep at it when it may seem little is happening.
- The perseverance to keep focused for the long term, and to work to turn your vision into reality.
Basic Elements of Successful Advocacy is a guide provided by the New York State Coalition for the Aging, Inc.
The Democracy Center. "Strategy Development: Key Questions for Developing an Advocacy Strategy," by Jim Shultz, Democracy Center director.
Ensuring Success for the Long Run is an article by the Institute for Sustainable Communities discussing sustaining yourself and your campaign throughout the advocacy process.
A Guide to being a Successful Advocate is a legislative guide with practical advice to create a lasting effect through advocacy work.
The Human Rights Connection. Lots of information on advocacy and advocacy planning, including a short piece on setting long-term and short-term goals and objectives, and a number of interesting case studies.
Strategic Advocacy for Lasting Results is a toolkit focused on creating an advocacy campaign with lasting results.
Successful Stories and Advocacy Case Studies has a variety of stories of successful advocacy campaigns with lasting effects.
The UNICEF Advocacy Toolkit is an extensive resource for creating long-term advocacy strategies.
What Makes an Effective Advocacy Organization is a guide that discusses both the short-term and long-term needs for an advocacy campaign.
Meredith, C., & Dunham.C. (1999) Real Clout. Boston: The Access Project.