I’m going to invite you to take out your organization’s mission statement and give it a hard look. Yeah, I imagine most of you have it memorized and ready to deliver as an “elevator speech” to someone at a networking function or potential donor, but today I am inviting you to stop and really read it.
Now, ask yourself what it will really take to achieve that mission.
For Health Forward and many of the organizations that we fund, our goals are lofty…eliminating barriers to health, providing affordable health care for all, breaking the cycle of domestic violence, or improving healthy eating and active living. A common strain across all of our work is that it is done within a system that oftentimes feels like it’s out of our control. You can make incredible strides toward your mission, but an economic recession or cuts to Medicaid eligibility can single-handedly wipe away all the advances you are making.
Because of the nature of the work we do, our long-term effectiveness is dependent upon the quality of services provided, but our long-term success, our ability to actually achieve the aspirational goals we have established for ourselves, is heavily dependent upon political, cultural and economic context. Policies at the city, county, state and federal levels have incredible impact on the work of nonprofits. It is this premise that spawned the creation of the Advocacy Capacity technical assistance initiative.
Along with the REACH Healthcare Foundation, Health Forward has provided three years of training and expert consultation focused on building the skills, abilities and processes for organizations to engage in policy advocacy on behalf of their institutions and the clients they serve.
At the beginning of this initiative, we had no idea whether this was something our nonprofit partners would even be interested in. Three years later, we have provided one-on-one consulting to 16 organizations who have made incredible movement to integrate advocacy throughout their agencies.
- There are so many fantastic ideas that have developed over the course of this initiative, here’s just a few:
- reStart has begun debriefing volunteers after their experience, encouraging participants to consider the root causes of homelessness.
- El Centro has made policy an organizational priority, going so far as including it in job descriptions.
- Harvesters has reframed their ask of volunteers and donors, asking them to “Give food. Give time. Give money. Give voice.” They have enhanced their volunteer experience to include meaningful ways of advocating on Harvesters’ policy goals.
In terms of our own learning, this started out as an idea that we were championing, hopefully crossing our fingers that others would also see value in nonprofits playing a role in the civic process. Three years later, there is interest and even urgency from organizations who are anxious to join us in changing the systems within which our target population lives.
We are grateful for this interest and committed to fostering continued momentum to fulfill the ambitious missions we have set for ourselves.