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Advocacy by All: How Nonprofits and Community Movements Can Partner for Change

Advocacy campaigns are one of the most important tools a nonprofit has to inspire and create change. Motivating people to help their neighborhoods, their local communities, or the global community is a human trait that has been around for centuries. And it’s what keeps so many of us committed to the nonprofit space today even as the communication channels we use change around us. Print ads, direct mail, websites, email, online ads, and social media – the goal of each of these outreach efforts is to empower a crowd and motivate them to act and get involved.

Grassroots activism is not new, but recent movements like Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, and March For Our Lives are challenging nonprofits in some unexpected ways. It may feel like your organization is no longer controlling the activism that is so deeply engrained in your mission. How do you manage, get involved, and ultimately ensure your needs are met when the community is already motivated and raising their voices in support of grassroots movements that are more local, more personal, or more tangible?

Here are three tips to ensure your voice is not lost in this changing landscape of user-generated advocacy:

  1. Recognize that you are not in charge (and be okay with it). March For Our Lives did not wait for professional advocates to outline a plan – they just took action, calling the media and organizing protests and meetings. For traditional organizations, the efforts of grassroots movements like this one should be viewed as an opportunity to support but not take over. Finding a balance between experience and the passion sparked in a new generation of activists is part of makes March For Our Lives unique.
  2. Let grassroots lead the way. No one knows better what a community needs than its members. As grassroots efforts arise around the issues important to your organization, get to know their leaders and messages, attend meetings, and become a partner. You both have the same goal – to motivate individuals or groups to make an impact. Ask yourself how combined efforts and resources can best amplify your shared message and increase the size of your audience.
  3. Get personal. The three movements mentioned above did not rely on social media alone. They also developed deep community relationships and encouraged people to step in front of the camera or microphone to tell their stories. This is face-to-face, passionate, and plea-driven momentum and is a go-to for any successful advocacy campaign. The mobilization of audiences might happen online, but it is still personal stories driving people to take action.

The backbone of successful advocacy campaigns is persistence and the humanization of your message. The goal of advocacy is to influence decisions within political, economic, and social systems. By adapting to, and recognizing, the citizen-activism driving social movements, your organization will reach new ears, and you might learn something in the process. Don’t discount the tried-and-true methods that you and other nonprofits have relied on thus far, but make sure to welcome the chance to follow others’ leads, grab a sign, and join a new conversation.

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