If you’ve been reading our blog or newsletter over the last year, we might now seem like a bit of broken record: Advocate. You really must advocate. Advocacy is super important. It will help your mission. Trust us. We promise advocacy is great.
And while we definitely believe this, we realized recently we may not actually be practicing what we preach. Advocacy shouldn’t be the job of a few at the organization but a core skill that every nonprofit employee has and deploys when needed. To ensure we are living up to that belief, we did something new this year: We took every single IS staff member to Capitol Hill.
— Brenna Stroup (@BrennaStroup) September 12, 2018
Why Capitol Hill? Because it’s the advocacy setting that intimidates people the most, and sometimes the biggest barrier to jumping into advocacy is getting over the perception that it is difficult.
First, we started with baby steps. We tested the idea by taking a few enthusiastic staff volunteers to the Hill with our government relations team for meetings. After attending meetings, they were more likely to engage in our digital advocacy work and had a better idea of policy issues important to our organization. But it wasn’t enough.
We know that the best advocates are often not policy professionals. They are the accountants crunching the financials behind the scenes, fundraisers educating the public about our work, program directors working on the front lines, in addition to our volunteers, donors, and constituents. Their experience tells the stories that mobilize people to action, including policymakers.
So this month, we educated all of our staff on why advocacy is the foundation for long-term social change, which only happens if everyone participates. They learned about the range of activities they can do as individual citizens and advocates, including voting, educating the public, emailing a policymaker, or sharing research on an issue.
Once they had a foundation about all the ways they can advocate, we took all of our staff to the Hill. They spent the day learning about our issues, practicing their advocacy skills, and then putting those skills to work by visiting 73 congressional offices in the afternoon. In particular, staff learned how our three core policy issues directly impact their daily work and life. One of the highlights from the day was our colleague realizing his own power as a citizen, “I didn’t know before today that I could come up and walk right into my member of Congress’ office.”
Yes, you can!
Evaluation after the Hill Day showed one of the highest ratings of any all-staff event. Even better, every respondent said they’re more willing to participate in advocacy activities next year on behalf of an issue important to them.
Like many of our sector colleagues, taking a full day away from hectic schedules was difficult, but the subsequent learning and bonding that happened as a result made this a valuable investment that we look forward to building upon in future years. If you or your organization are interested in learning more about how to encourage your staff to interact with your members of Congress, check out our tips for advocating this upcoming recess.