[NOTE: Link to recording and slide deck can be found at the bottom of this post]
In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations might be wondering if advocacy work is impactful, or even appropriate. If the answer is yes, how can social entrepreneurs and nonprofits meaningfully advance key priorities in the midst of such massive disruption? This week, America Forward came together with Danica Petroshius from Penn Hill Group and Dr. Pamela Cantor from America Forward Coalition Member Turnaround for Children, for a webinar focused on strategies for effective advocacy during the current crisis.
To answer the basic question: our belief is that, yes, now is a critical time for advocacy. Billions of dollars in emergency funding have begun flowing to the state and local level from the CARES Act and the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act; federal policymakers are debating additional relief measures; and, lawmakers and staff – even in the midst of the ongoing crisis – are moving forward fiscal year 2021 appropriations legislation and looking at what authorizing bills could move in the coming months.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on deeply rooted issues that America Forward Coalition members have been working on for a long time, and policymakers want to hear from experts and organizations on the ground about how these challenges can be addressed, through both COVID-19 relief efforts and regular legislative and appropriations activity.
Danica offered some tips for how Coalition members can engage effectively during the crisis:
- Localize and personalize your story. Local context and storytelling is still important. In some ways, the shift to virtual makes it easier to include a richness of voices in one conversation – like local leaders, practitioners, and impacted communities – in engagement with policymakers.
- Plan ahead to ensure the effective use of technology. For both individual meetings and larger events (like town halls or briefings), be sure to test out technology beforehand – especially testing new platforms, double checking capacity, and developing a protocol for running an effective virtual meeting.
- The more things change, the more they stay the same. In the midst of COVID-19, advocates should remember that some characteristics of engagement with policymakers remain the same: time will be limited, relationships with staff are key, you hold tremendous content expertise in these conversations, and sometimes warding off a bad policy is as big a win as passing a great one.
- Be prepared to talk about the impact of COVID-19. No matter what the “focus” of an advocacy meeting at this moment, organizations should be prepared to answer basic questions about the impact of COVID-19 on their organization and their community.
America Forward staff and Coalition members had the opportunity to see this guidance play out in practice during America Forward’s recent virtual Hill week (a series of meetings with policymakers).
Dr. Pamela Cantor, Founder and Senior Science Advisor of Turnaround for Children, who participated in a virtual Hill meeting during the week of activities, described a situation in which she had a conversation with staff about the importance of relationships, routines, and resilience – both in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, and as part of a holistic effort to meet the learning needs of children.
“The first thing we did was to lay out this foundation and to enable [the staff member] to really be able to see that there are a few things that are really crucial to focus on. The effects of the pandemic and policies that support schools’ ability to do these things mean there will be much less profound impact on kids and a restoration of their path to learning,” Cantor told attendees. “The other part of the meeting that I think was very valuable was that I was joined by my partner from Turnaround who is a practitioner in the Bay Area confronting these issues in real time – Katie Breckenridge – and she was able to bring some very rich stories about what leaders and teachers are confronting right now as kids are home and the concerns they have as kids move back to school.”
For more guidance about advocacy work in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, and to hear more about America Forward’s recent virtual hill day, folks can access a recording of the webinar and copy of the slide deck here. As social entrepreneurs and nonprofits continue their efforts to navigate the COVID-19 crisis and help their communities recover, America Forward remains committed to providing Coalition members with timely, relevant webinars and resources to guide their response.
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