Monday, June 8, 2009

Opinion:  You can’t not communicate and call yourself an advocate

As a longtime nonprofit staffer, I understand the challenges of social media.   Writing for a Web site, electronic newsletter and blog takes a great deal of time, time often seen as away from the core mission of the organization.

As an advocate, however, communication is essential.   Communication is story telling, information and intelligence sharing, education, persuasion, opinion changing, and enlightening.   It is, in fact, the currency in which we trade.   And it is very much about your core mission.

Too often, advocates and service providers who periodically venture into advocacy (most often legislative and budget) only communicate – read, testify – when they want or oppose something.   Worse, their communication is too often rife with complaints and with no accompanying solutions.

To me, the issue is less about whether you blog than whether you communicate at all.   Donors, potential partners, elected and appointed officials, neighbors, clients/potential clients, and the media should not have to work hard to find out what you do, what your positions are, what good you are doing, etc.   If they have to work, they are less likely to want to work with you, call you to comment on a story.  In the world of advocacy, those insular organizations will not be at the top of the list to help solve problems.

So what is the solution?   Certainly, those who believe that holding information close, parsing it out only to those who somehow "deserve" it will not change their mind as a result of this piece.   In my experience, what non-sharers think is that all information has to be secret, not just that which is strategic.   But for those who are interested in communicating, in actually working with others to solve problems, there are some publicly available resources that can help you on your way.   A list from Have Fun * Do Good about blogging is a good place to start.   Other blogs – such as those on the LIST OF CHANGE – also offer advice and how-tos.

So share information about the work you do, the population you serve, the challenges your clients face.   This information helps colleagues and the wider community better understand the challenges facing your clients and even the broader community.   This information can be used to support public policy decisions.

Bottom line:   Tell the story, help your clients, be part of the solution.