Wilson Foundation strategic focus area #4: Advocacy will provide a voice for issues and solutions relating to trauma and housing instability.
A lot of the talk about poverty in Rochester revolves around system change. The system is broken. We need to fix the system. If the different parts of the system worked together. At the heart of system change is advocacy. This is done in many forms—research and evaluation, education, public awareness, legislative policy, etc.
Advocacy needs to be intentional with a plan and goals. We often hear “we advocate on behalf of homeless families.” What does that mean? Are the families a part of the advocacy? Are you simply building awareness that families are homeless, or suggesting solutions to end homelessness? General awareness of a problem brings about general apathy as a solution. We need clear goals and a clear strategy.
There is sometimes confusion or disagreement about what advocacy is and how to do it, so the Foundation will explain its aim with advocacy funding. Overall, these are the high-level concepts we are prioritizing:
Systems don’t communicate—a youth or family may be in multiple systems with little coordination. Managing their own navigators/social workers/case managers is a full-time job.
Data systems— we need to imbed data collection, usage and understanding into our culture. It is there to inform our decisions, not to give us a grade at the end.
Public awareness campaigns—Not In My Back Yard is too influential on critical issues. Don’t assume everyone knows the facts and agrees. Using data and story-telling together help drive change.
Local and state policy agendas—when we have proven something is successful and has impact, we can put it into law and ideally have it become a funded part of all operations.
Our funding strategy will focus on awareness building, community education and systems change. For instance:
- Policy efforts for sustained change for families and youth impacted by trauma and/or housing instability
- Incorporating housing policies into other system efforts that are inherently linked, like poverty reduction
- Incorporating trauma support and resilience policy into education and health work
- Data system and communication tools that help the community build on proven success
- Internal support for cross system communication tools and data sharing implementation, for example—staff time and training, technology design and implementation, MOUs, etc.
What we don’t intend to fund with our advocacy strategy:
- Advocacy as an add-on—it needs to be intentional
- Being an advocate for a cause or person without a clear advocacy goal
- Organization marketing plans
With these types of investments, we hope to improve the ability of those serving children and families to coordinate care across agencies for increased numbers of families receiving effective care coordination across multiple services. We hope to increase public awareness on critical issues relating to housing and trauma. We hope to advance policies at state and local levels to create improved systems of care for youth and families. We hope to reduce technological barriers in data collection for quality improvement and communication in order to better analyze and use data.
In order for us all to be effective we need:
- To know the problem and the causes—we do this in part through better data;
- To talk to each other about the solutions—collaboration and open communication;
- To agree on solutions—which is informed by our program and systems data;
- So we can work together to define goals, action steps and progress.
If advocacy scares you, then don’t do it yet, or work with a partner who you know has done it before. It’s not as daunting as you think, but better to have a mentor than to go it alone at first. And it needs to be coordinated! Look around before starting a campaign or agenda—maybe others are working on similar or related issues—you are stronger working together than apart.
There are some rules about advocacy that you should investigate—when in doubt, seek legal counsel. Most rules are easy to avoid, but spend some time understanding what they are or partner with someone who already knows.
As I’ve pointed out before, Council of Nonprofits is a good place to begin understanding the wide range of advocacy types—it’s not just sending bills to the legislature!
We don’t have all the answers for your next steps, but we are here as a resource and will do our best to guide you. We know that advocacy is a long-term solution, and we are here as your long-term partner.