Carey Harris, CEO of Literacy Pittsburgh and longtime local advocate for children’s issues, shared her tips on advocacy at the March 15th Meeting of the Jefferson Community Collaborative. Advocacy has been a core component of Carey’s work for the past 27 years, particularly in her past role as Executive Director with A+ Schools. Most recently, she led the Pennsylvania Early Learning Investment Commission in supporting business leaders as advocates for increased state investment in young children, winning increases of nearly $200 million in two years.
Carey’s Tips for Successful Advocacy
While I am by no means an expert on advocacy, I’ve learned a few things about what works and what matters.
- First, it’s important to ‘cut to the issue’ or get specific about what you want to change. It can be easy to get stuck here, either by spending too much time admiring the problem or failing to get specific enough so that the desired action is clear and measurable.
- Second, it is important to remember that advocacy requires a toolkit, not just one tool. Sometimes those of us with a passion for social justice just focus on grassroots organizing in the form of mass emails, turn out at public hearings and petitions. Equally important tools include government relations, grass tops organizing, and communications to name a few. The best advocacy efforts employ multiple approaches that are done in coalition with others with a shared interest.
It is also important to remember what matters. Here are three tips from my experience:
- There are no such things as problems, just opportunities for learning. What do we need to teach our elected officials so that they can make the best decisions? What do we need to learn about competing interests? Public financing? Good advocates are always learning and always teaching.
- Everything is harder to do and will take longer than you think it will, but anything is possible. This difficulty is built into our system of government intentionally, so plan accordingly. Consider that the What Works Campaign spent considerable time and effort just to change the name of the Pennsylvania Department of Welfare to the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services. If that simple, but profound, change took so long, it is no wonder that effective policies dealing with complicated and expensive human challenges can seem elusive. Good advocates are optimistic and resilient.
- Relationships, Relationships, Relationships. It is essential to build, nurture, and grow good relationships – with your elected officials and their staffs, with your allies, with your adversaries and, of course, with the people you’re fighting for. This means staying in touch even when you don’t need anything. Investing in relationships will make your advocacy stronger and will enable you to go further faster.”