In episode 65 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Lisa G. Hazirjian discuss:
Lisa Hazirjian, PhD, founded Win Together Consulting to help progressive change makers develop strategy, build power, engage supporters, and leverage strengths to achieve their goals. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Public Policy Studies, Graduate Certificate in Women’s Studies, and Ph.D. in U.S. History from Duke University, and is working toward a Nonprofit Leadership Certificate from the Harvard Kennedy School. You can reach Lisa at email@example.com.
Important Links and Resources:Transcript:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Lisa Hazirjian. Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I’m Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant. On this podcast we explore how to make your organization more effective and innovative. We dig into how to build organizational cultures where your work in the world is aligned with how you work together as staff, board members and volunteers. All of this is for the purpose of creating greater mission impact.
Lisa and I talk about public policy advocacy for nonprofits. We explore how anger and sadness can be a catalyst for action, how nonprofits – specifically c3s in the US – can incorporate advocacy into their work and to further their mission, why it is so important to think about why your issue could matter to a decision maker – from their point of view, some simple steps you can take to start building a relationship with policy makers, and how to identify and build a ladder of engagement for your supporters
Welcome Lisa. Welcome to the podcast.
Lisa Hazirjian: Thank you so much, Carol. I really appreciate the opportunity to be here today.
Carol: I'd like to start out with a question around what drew you to the work that you do? What would you say motivates you and what would you describe as your why?
Lisa: A lot of answers to that question, but they really all come back to two things. One of which is really at, at a few key points in my life needing to find an outlet for a lot of sadness and anger during times of loss. And the other being my training as a historian, I did a career change. I have a PhD in modern US history and I studied social movements and public policy and how they influenced one another. And the moment when all of that came together Was 2008. The moment really lasted about six months starting with a tenure track job offer which was great. Except at the university where I was offered a job. This is back before marriage equality. And I would be moving with my partner now, my wife and the university didn't offer domestic partner benefits and that. Could have been a big issue. And so I asked if they might be able to come up with some way for my wife to get onto the university's health insurance policy. I pointed to a couple of examples of other universities that had made these kinds of accommodations. And long story short the response, I got a few days. The immediate response I got was being yelled at, which was not good. But the ultimate response was being told the university is no longer considering your candidacy for this position. And I. That was very upsetting as you can imagine. And this was 2008 and I suddenly had a lot of time on my hands because the contract I had had just ended. And I didn't know what I was going to be doing, but. I was approached and asked to pull volunteers together for the Obama campaign to have a presence at the Cleveland Pride Parade and Festival and I did that. And I did that specifically. Because Barack Obama was a candidate who, although he did not at the time support marriage equality yet he did support an employment non-discrimination act that we still don't have. Still trying to get what's now the Equality Act passed. But for me, this was a way, not just to get something for myself, but to get something for everyone to fight, to have a president who would sign a much needed non-discrimination act. And that became the thing that I put all of my emotions into for the next several months. And really saw a lot of the things I had studied coming into action in terms of what it means to do.
Marshall your leadership skills in a way that draws in hundreds of people to build the collective power you need to achieve a goal, which in this case was getting Ohio for, for the campaign. After the campaign I took some time to take stock and realized that I should build myself an off-ramp from academia and an on-ramp into professional advocacy work.
Carol: I feel like that's an off-ramp that a lot of people are exploring these days. But that's a different conversation.
Lisa: I would say it is a different conversation. And I can recommend someone to talk to you about that.
Carol: I appreciate that story and I do think that a lot of advocacy work does start with something you're angry about or something that pisses you off, or sadness or any of those things that can be a catalyst to, okay, well I can sit in this, or I can try to move things forward and. Said, have things be different for me, but have things be different for a wider group of people, which is, which is so important. My exit from history, I was a history major back in college, was much less dramatic than yours. I was doing my thesis for my BA and at the library, the big library downtown in Philadelphia and reading magazines from the late 1800s. I was looking at the role of advice being given to women on parenting in that time period in Germany. And I found that I was allergic to old paper. So a life of being an art for sure was not going to be in my future. So, not quite the same, but got that commonality, that background. So as you said, you've shifted into doing political ad advocacy work and, and helping people with their political campaigns. With, with nonprofit organizations, and I think there are a lot of misconceptions that people have about what's allowed, what isn't allowed. What would you say are some of those, some of the biggest misconceptions that you run into in terms of advocacy work and organization, non profit organizations that you work?
Lisa: It's interesting. I mean, I think plenty of people before me have said that one of the biggest misconceptions out there is this idea that nonprofits can't do policy advocacy. And that's just absolutely not the case. Of course they can. And I would argue they should, right? Nonprofits have a lot more knowledge and experience in a whole range of fields than our areas where public policy is made than most of the people who are making those decisions. And when nonprofits bring their voices and bring the voices of the people they serve into those conversations. To try to advance policies. They're really doing a service to everyone cuz it's not like lawmakers can be experts on everything, none of us can. AndI'm, I'm not an attorney and if I were, I would have a disclaimer that I'm not giving legal advice. But, but the short of it is that, As long as you aren't endorsing a particular political candidate doing anything to try to affect the to try to elect person X over person y it's very likely that you're perfectly legally compliant. And it's nearly impossible for most organizations, even full-time advocacy organizations. Run up against the IRS limits on how much time and money you can spend on advocacy. But that misconception aside, cause that's one that comes up over and over. I actually think another really really major misconception is, progressive nonprofits can't get anything done unless Democrats are in power. Or the flip side of that, that having democrats in power means that progressive nonprofits can get things done. Neither one of those is completely true. And, both of them miss the reality that there are a lot of things competing for attention at legislatures, and at the end of the day, it's anyone's ability to influence those decision makers that matters.
And there are a few things that nonprofits can do that can really help with that. And one of them is simply, Having supporters who are constituents of those key lawmakers and the other is speaking their language. So when I was executive director of the North Carolina AIDS Action Network I, I did not harbor any illusion that many of the Republican lawmakers in control at the North Carolina General Assembly were going to be moved by A lot of the things that motivated me, the fact that I had lots of gay male friends living with HIV, for example. But I did think that they would probably be moved by the idea that it would be great if our kids could grow up in a world where, once they are adults, they're not worried about HIV. And that in the meantime it'd be great if the state wasn't spending as much money dealing with HIV. And having those messages that resonated with the lawmakers really, really made a big difference.
Carol: A couple things. Obviously our conversation is all grounded in the context of the United States. I do have folks who listen to the podcast from around the world. So for this topic, it's all within the particular laws and institutions that we have here. You mentioned the IRS, the Internal Revenue Service, that's what it's called. And I think the limits that you were talking about also are particular to one type of nonprofit, which is, I don't know the percentages, but I'm guessing the most common is the c3 within that code. And then of course our politics in terms of our two-party system and all of that. But with all of that in mind I think about what you're saying, taking all of those particularities of the US aside, what you're talking about or really thinking about what matters to the decision makers that you're trying to speak to, and share your message. Share your, trying to move things forward, getting in their shoes, thinking about how they're looking at things where there might be common ground. I mean, that's something that folks could do
Lisa: anywhere. Absolutely. No, that's, that's exactly right. And , I have some colleagues in Canada who, who I've talked with about similar things , and different particulars about how the government is structured, what parties might be called, et cetera, but the same basic principles. And I would add that, a lot of these tips for doing better public policy advocacy also apply to just any mission advocacy, including fundraising. I think many of us have had the experience of sitting down and trying to figure out how to translate how we talk about our work and our mission in the day-to-day. The language of whatever major funder we might be applying for funding from and just , speaking their language is half the battle there.
Carol: What matters to them and, and how do you, I mean, so that, that. What are some of the, specific or concrete steps that people can take to start being able to shift their perspective and get a better understanding of the folks that they're trying to influence?
Lisa: So I mean, always sort of trying to ground ourselves in who's our audience. Who is it? Who, whose help We really need. Because if it was just us , right? If it was just our staff, our board, the people we serve, the people on our email list, then we could just mobilize everyone and do it. But when we need to persuade. People who are on that, on the outside of that us, that we really need to think about who are these people? And , these days it's not that hard. Everyone's got a website. It's , you can start doing things. I think one step that is really useful is to. To do like a really quick survey of the people who receive your email. Your email blasts and simply asks like, Hey, do any of our policy makers at the local level, county, state, or whatever the kinds of divisions of government might be in other countries? Because. a good chance that there are people who are receiving your emails, who do have relationships.
And that's important in two ways. The first being they're really gonna know and understand those people a lot better. And second many times the best messenger is somebody who already has a good relationship. With that lawmaker. Sothat's, that's just one, one really simple thing that people can do.
Carol: And all those steps that you take to build, build that relationship, start to get to know the person. And I was listening to another podcast last week, and this was more in terms of kind of. , business networking and, but the person had a, had a principle of no ask before one year of, of being in relationship with that person. So not like, okay, I'm gonna knock on your door and I'm gonna ask you immediately for something that, that and, and she used the word political capital, although it wasn't, highlarge p and I don't know what you think about that or. . It, it, that's just, that's just one framework for thinking about it. But what I did appreciate about it was that you need to invest something in that relationship before you're asking something of the person.
Lisa: So, I mean, I would not wait a year, not wait a month. Okay. If you need something, you ask, but I, but I definitely concur that it is always better to start building a relationship before you need something. And I, I recently, well a little while back wrote a blog piece that the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits put out. It actually came out shortly after the November election here in the US and it was simply a sort of , why and how to congratulate the people who just won. And , basically saying like, this is a great opportunity just to get on their radar, tell them a sentence about what you do, what you care about, make sure you're gonna get their emails. And it's just, it's going from being a complete stranger. To have that initial point of contact, which can be really important later on when something comes up and you and you really need to have a more substantive conversation. .
Carol: So I think some other things I really appreciated that post of yours and cuz it's so simple, right? And anybody can, any, can, anybody can do that. But not everybody's going. Which will be the differentiating thing. And then other simple things ofcel helping, celebrating wins, and thanking someone for, for lots of different things. Just all those little bits and pieces that you can do to start cultivating that relationship.
Lisa: That’s exactly right.
Carol: Are you saying some of the big mistakes that people make?
Lisa: Well, one of the biggest mistakes I've made and have really learned from is Limiting trying to do everything ourselves and limiting opportunities for other people to get involved. , the reality, I, I love that part of your tagline is that, that this podcast is for progressive nonprofits and associations, organizations , wanna achieve big things without being martyrs through the cause. And I have definitely been in positions where I have. Worked myself to the brink of needing to be admitted to the hospital for rehydration and rest. And that is not healthy and it is not sustainable. But it's not necessary either. The reality is that whatever it is that we're doing, whatever.
Mission is whatever our immediate goals are, there are other people out there who want us to be successful and there are a lot of people out there who wanna help and we just need to ask. And the reality is that when we give people. Strategic opportunities to help out at whatever level of engagement works for them.
Whether it's , let me take three minutes and do something, or let me take three hours and do something once a week. Or let me take three hours one time in my life. Whatever it is, that gives us so much more capacity. to get things done. And so II, I think one of the most important things that any organization can do is think about the best ways to engage their supporters more frequently in more meaningful ways.
Carol: , and I appreciate what you're saying around, it's not necessary, but I would also say especially in this work and probably any work, the more people you have involved, the more effective you're gonna be anyway. Oh, absolutely. But I see a lot of times like organizations that let's say they're an environmental organization and they do environmental education and they have this assumption.
So we bring these kids out, they're doing environmental education, they're gonna talk to their parents, and their parents are gonna become advocates for the environment. And it's like, there's so many leaps between the one to the other that , maybe one or two of the folks will have that ultimate outcome.
But if there's so many little breadcrumbs that you could, you could, or. . Steps that you could offer people, but I find it's hard PE for people to think of what those little steps
Lisa: are. Sure. And I, so, yes. And . Okay. . I, I think that there are a, another mistake I see a lot are organizations who have a ton of ideas, let's do this thing and let's do this thing.
And here's another thing we can do, and here's another thing that we can do. And all of, and some of those ideas can be fabulously creative and innovative and do a good job of leveraging their strengths, but they aren't necessarily attached to a core strategy. To achieve a particular campaign milestone or particular goal nor are they attached to a more overarching organizational goal of building long-term power.
And , I, I, I want to destigmatize the word power because the reality is, Power is what you make of it. And having the power to make the world a better place in whatever way your nonprofit or association is trying to do should be celebrated. And one thing that I help organizations do is take a step back, and this is a place where my training as a historian really helps.
Even though you stopped in those archives , you can understand that as a historian you develop this perspective that is simultaneously very long range. And has a ton of attention to details of how change happens over time. Like that is very much what historians do. And it's what successful advocacy organizations Do if they're doing a great job of developing strategy, is they think ahead a few years down the road to the impact they wanna have, and they backfill and think about, okay, well we can't.
We don't have the resources we need right now. We don't have the capacity we need right now to achieve this big thing that we wanna achieve by 2025, let's say. But we can get there. Let's think about the steps to take to get there. And it could mean just growing the number of people who. Who are part of your organization, who you're in dialogue with, who you can mobilize in support of a goal.
It can mean building out, cultivating a group of people who can talk to the media and be effective storytellers on behalf of your organization. It can. People who can bring some specialized skills that you need. You brought up an environmental piece. It could be that you need the capacity to just get water samples from across the entire state.
And it turns out that. That's something where you can teach everyday people to go out and help be water monitors. I have very little expertise in this. I'm just using this as an example. Sure. . .
Carol: I was thinking about what you were saying, and I think one of the things that the nonprofit sector does not struggle with is a deficit of ideas.
And a deficit of things that they could do or ways that they could try to move their issue forward. But can you give me an example of when folks have taken those ideas but really built a strategy to move their issue forward, and how they've engaged people.
Lisa: You like the pregnant pause? . . Well, I, I'm gonna give you an example that I know well which again, is drawing from my own work with the North Carolina AIDS Action Network. When I was hired I was the, the first The, the first full-time staff person the, the first executive director staff of one, and the first thing I did was ask like, Who, who are we?
Who are all the people who've ever been involved in this formerly all volunteer thing, and it was a list of 243 people who I either was able to find an email or a phone number for. And I started building and I, I started building for a very particular need that we were aware might be coming down the pike.
A program that at the time was called the AIDS Drug Assistance Program had There have been funding crises in many of the states in the US including North Carolina that resulted in waiting lists and and we were anticipating a state budget battle that I needed to prepare for, and I knew that No matter how great a one pager I developed and no matter how much of a collegial relationship I was able to form with the heads of the Health and Human Services appropriation subcommittees that at, at the end of the day, I was gonna need more to convince them.
And, and so I started tapping the people who we already had as folks who had ever done something and using them as my starting point to recruiting more people across the state, just needing numbers and also needing breadth of coverage, particularly in the district. Of the legislators who sat on that super important health and human services appropriation subcommittee.
So I was very intentional about going to those particular corners of the state and finding constituents of those specific people so that when the moment came around, I kept on chasing after Nelson dollar trying to talk to him, and he kept on not talking to me. and I kept on trying to schedule an appointment.
We had a, a list, a deep list of people who lived in his district and we mobilized them to make phone calls into his office. And , gave them a little bit of training about what to say on the phone. And I gave it a couple of days, and then I went back to the office to make an appointment and the legislative aid said, oh , we've been getting a lot of calls about that issue.
Let me fit you into his schedule. And II, I mentioned this because a lot of us who got a lot of education might have some letters after our name, are under the illusion that all we have to do is, is. Develop a compelling argument. But actually we need to actually force people to listen to our argument.
And , I I I like to say that there can't be persuasion without the pressure to actually listen to you. And so that's a case of doing that base building, that intentional base building to create the pressure for a key legislator to. and that
Carol: base building. I mean, I'm on a lot of newsletter lists and, and , get advocacy alerts.
And some I respond to and some I don't. And I, I don't consider myself , someone who's really that, that that'sI've, I, I would say probably I'm a reluctant advocate. And so even something like that, I feel like. It takes some steps to get people comfortable to pick up the phone, send an email, do any of those things, and contact decision makers.
And it is one of the things that we talked about beforehand, that, that. I think it is relevant in a lot of different circumstances is this notion of a letter, a ladder of engagement. And you talked about before the kind of thing someone can do in three minutes, or maybe it's three hours in a week or maybe it's three hours one time.
Can you talk a little bit more about that and, and kind of. cultivate your base. That's a, that, that, there's a lot of things that could go into that Right. To actually have it be successful.
Lisa: Sure. . No, I would love to talk about that. And, and, and I will say that when I was with, with N C A N, with the AIDS Action Network, just about every board meeting my staff and I would tell a story about that.
Explained the roles of in the end it was me and a community organizer and a communications person. And we would tell a story that demonstrated what each of us did in the organization. But it also talked about our ladder of engagement. And the story would go something like this. , it would go something like Our community organizer went to this event in the community and met a bunch of people and had conversations with them and moved some of those people from being members of the general public to being people who we had the ability to get in touch with.
By getting their contact information, getting them signed up to receive our emails. And at the same time he invited them to become part of our volunteer team, where we would ask people if they would make a commitment to. Devote three hours one time in the next three months to helping us out. And so we wanted to give people a sense of, we're not asking for your whole lives, but we also don't wanna bother trying to get you out to things if you're not thinking that.
, sometime in the next three months, don't wanna do this. And that was. The beginning of us explaining our ladder of engagement, the first rung is simply putting your foot on that bottom rung and saying let me get on your email list. Let me get on your text list. Here's how to hear from me.
But maybe you might grab on higher on that ladder and say, what? I have this intention of becoming a volunteer and stating that And then we would move people. And , I would say the next real step our communications person would move people from being signed up to getting people to take that first click action.
The getting people to respond to an action alert, getting people to share something on Facebook and. and we, we really developed a few different ladders of engagement and one of them was more of a base building lane of volunteering with us at community events to do the same thing our community organizer had done.
Go around with clip petitions, postcards, et cetera, and bring more people involved. And another piece was more storytelling oriented. Get people involved in telling their stories about why our work mattered to them, and why the policies we advocated for were important in their lives. But the basic concept is to have a predefined.
Set of steps that people can take from not being anywhere on the ladder to climbing up that ladder to positions of. Increasing responsibility and importance to the success of what you do? I personally am okay with letting people skip a few steps. Sure. But, not be all the way at the top. Because having those steps is important for getting some proof of concept that somebody is going to be reliable and be effective at particular things.
And there's also a certain amount of skill building that one wants to do. If you have someone who's volunteering as a phone banker you want them to be really good at it before they host their own phone bank and need to support other people who are doing it for the first time.
Carol: Well, I love the specificity of, of that.
, the email one, I think , or contact information. I think a lot of people are probably already doing building their list, building how they get in touch with people. But that next step of the way that you talked about three hours in the next three months it's memorable for one.
And it's possible to, it's, it's. I mean, it's a commitment, right? It's not nothing. It's not, I'm just gonna ask you to do this little thing that doesn't really matter to you. It's, it's, it's more than, It's something you need to advocate and actively say yes to. And yet it's not so huge that it becomes you get paralyzed by, oh my God, they're asking me to do something and I'm not ready.
. And I, and I love the idea of also that , through that One, you're seeing who does step up. And then two, you're having a chance to build their skills as they, as you, as you go. And then also , seeing, do they follow through? Do they say what they're gonna do? , and I think that's applicable in so many different parts of the work that nonprofits do.
Ofsomeone may be trying to build their board and I often talk to groups about, okay, so get them involved in some other way. A committee, a campaign , some specific things that you can see how they are to work with. Do they follow through? Do you have to chase after them? , what, what?
What's, what's their work style? Does it fit, is it contributing, is it draining? Before you ask them for something really big, that could have just a huge impact on your organization. Oh
Lisa: my gosh. Well, that is excellent advice You're offering Carol , but there's another piece that I wanna put out there.
So, and, and really just talking with youI remember. The community organizer who was on staff when I ultimately left CAN he reminded me one day that. The first time he met me, he was an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, and I was a guest speaker in a class he was taking.
And that was his first awareness of me and what I was doing. And he waited tables at a local diner. andI bumped into him there and then he showed up as a volunteer. And was someone who I saw had some real natural abilities in this area and got him involved more. And then he had a job where we were coalition partners and , I.
And finally I was able to hire him at, at one point. But so he went all the way from being a member of the general public in a classroom. And getting involved as a volunteer and then being a volunteer leader to ultimately being staff. And I, I, one thing that I'm really proud of to this day about the program that we built and what our supporter engagement program looked like is the number of people who.
Were involved as volunteers or interns who now work in the field. It's actually a really great way to build the profession, a really great way to help people build their leadership skills.
Carol: Absolutely. And I helped an association build their ladder of engagement. And this wasn't from a policy point of view, but from a volunteer leadership point of view.
And it was just okay, you have the first step is to become a member, maybe, or maybe even the first step is to come to an event that the association holds or, or even. Well, I guess the first step before that would be it'd be in the field and , be, become aware of the organization, come to an event.
And then use the resources of the organization to step up to volunteer to be a presenter or write something for, and it could be at the local level or, or regional level. And it's just like one small step, as you say, after another of taking increasing risk. Responsibility. And then in that case for that person building their visibility over the course of their career and their leadership skills.
But I think it's also one of the things that we tried to do, as we were mapping that volunteer leader experience and also thinking at each step, what is, what is the person. , not only what they're contributing, but what they're gaining through that experience of the, the, and, and being explicit about the skills that they're able to learn.
As they go and how, what they're doing ultimately is contributing to that bigger picture.
Lisa: Well that, that piece is huge. And one thing that's always been important to me whenever I do any training, well first of all, I always believe that if you have volunteers, you need to actually spend some time training them before you just throw them into whatever they're doing.
But then, yes, please . For me, the training should always have a why as well as a how. Hmm. And have the big picture of what we are doing because here's how this little thing that we're gonna be doing fits into the bigger picture. And then with, with the, how I like to have let me explain it.
Let me demonstrate it. Let's have your role play it. Let's evaluate. Okay, now you're ready. And I think that that is super important to the quality of volunteer experience that people have as well as being important to helping to really build those skills. , to me, one sign of a great volunteer program is an intention of.
Of having this ladder of engagement where a volunteer who's come three times Has an opportunity to say, yes, I would like to take on the next level of responsibility where I can be the person who trains and coaches new volunteers doing the same thing. And that expands the organizational capacity so much.
And These are still folks who might just be giving three hours a month. If you have 10 people doing that, that's a huge amount of capacity that you're adding. .
Carol: . And okay. I said that this might happen at the beginning and now it's
Lisa: happened and I apologize because my, I was thinking about
Okay. I was thinking
Lisa: about the, because I'm a parent, I can't turn off my phone, so
Carol: No, no, it's no worries. . That, that association situation and. Oh , I've lost it. Oh, well. All right, so you were talking about the next levels of responsibility and the ripple effect. So , when you ask people about those things it really creates .
You're, you're, you're creating more and more ripples that they, that they can contribute to. And I think another thing that you were talking about, the why and the how I I. I work with groups helping them with their strategic planning and, and it's a, it's a process, right? There are lots of steps to it.
And one of the things that I've realized recently is that I, it's so obvious to me what the why is that I forget to, to tell people. The why of all these steps that we're taking through the process. And so I had an instance recently where there was a, there was just a real misalignment of expectations because I hadn't done a good job of explaining why.
And I think for any of us who do the thing that they do you get to be very familiar with it. And it all seems just as obvious. I don't know what anything is, and so it's easy to forget. So I appreciate that of course
Lisa: Of course. And what, even though I said it as I just listened to you, I realized that what you are saying applies to a situation I am in right now.
Carol: Well, I think I'm gonna make it my mantra for 2023, the why and the how , not just the how. Well,
Lisa: Great, great. It is good, it is a good mantra. I just need to apply it to all aspects of my life, not just. That particular one.
Carol: Right. Right. And I, I, what I also appreciate about what you're talking about, we started talking about , decision makers that you're trying to influence and looking for how, where the commonality is. But I think it's really with your base, it's also looking for what, what's gonna. Influence them to take action. Those, those smaller steps that you're asking people to take. And some people I was thinking also, I was focusing on skills, but. Some people may be very motivated by that. Other people, it may be other things of, being part of a community that's, that's, that's taking action , seeing those and, and you, I think it's, it's hard to go to wins cuz. I don't know, policy campaigns, there's often, it's, it's often a very long process before you really get the big triumph. So finding those small wins as you go to keep people moving and motivated, but thinking about different things that will engage people and motivate them. People at the same time of being strategic, of not trying to do all the things for all the people.
Lisa: No, I mean that, that's right. And, and listen, you're very much in touch with the reality that That policy change can be glacial except when we don't want it to be Right. like having this bullet train of bad policy coming right at us .
Carol: Although the people on the other side will probably think, well actually we've been building towards that for the last 50 years.
Lisa: No, and and, and you're exactly right. You're a hundred percent right about that. But , I think that The way I and other people who have volunteered have experienced these policy campaigns. Part of the win, again, is just the opportunity to be helping them, let me try that again. I think that for a lot of people, the win is simply being able to do something with other people to help move closer to that eventual win. And because of the isolation and the frustration of being by yourself, being frustrated by something and just feeling helpless. That's terrible. I hate it. , other people hate it. And so for me, and I'm like, look, let's just, let's create, create ways to bring folks together. And I'm, I'm thinking about back, I think it might have been 2016 when the North Carolina legislature passed HB two, which. National press. It was one of these anti-trans bills. And I was pissed. Lots of people were pissed. And , I decided, all right, I gotta do something. What can I do? What's, what's gonna be helpful? And I decided just to take some skills. That I had learned in, in other campaigns to do some grassroots fundraising to try to unseat some of the co-sponsors of that odious bill. And so I just put together this little , grassroots fundraising thing where I invited people to join me. I had a friend who was able to. Like the community room and her neighborhood for us, I did a little training. We made phone calls just to our own personal contacts, and we raised about $5,000 one evening for some of these candidates to help get them elected. And , in the grand scheme of a campaign for State House or state Senate, that's not a ton of money. But it's also, A significant amount of money. And We all felt like we helped with getting a few good people elected, but also it just meant that we could all be in a shared space and do something ourselves. And everyone we called to help make a donation was also someone who we knew was feeling like, oh, this HB two thing stinks. I wanna do something, but I don't know what to do. So it had those multiple layers or ripples as you said, that reallyI knew that, wellI can donate money, but I, I have onlyI work in the nonprofit sector, how much money can I possibly donate? Well , but I know people and they can donate and they know people and they can donate. Right.
Carol: And so again, that's that . Pulling people in as you talked about, you don't have to do it all yourself. Absolutely. And that actually part of the joy is. Doing it together. . And bringing people together and creating that sense of community. So I really appreciate that. So I'd like to end each episode by playing a game where I ask you an icebreaker question from my little box of icebreaker questions. So we were talking about skills before. What's a skill that you learned when you were young that you would say that you still use today?
Lisa: I'm such a different adult than the kid I was. But there's a really obvious answer. Okay. So the skill that I first used when I was in the fifth grade was simply the skill of not accepting that something has to be the way someone says it has to be. Hmm. And I'm, I'm thinking of a kid, a boy. This is important to the story. A boy from my neighborhood who is in my grade at school decided that girls couldn't play in the fifth grade softball game. And when pressed by me for a reason, why, coming up with this excuse that you had to have a glove, me saying, well, why can't we just borrow gloves? People who are at bat and him saying You have to have your own glove. And so goodie two shoes, I cut recess, to go home and get my own baseball glove. Which I did. But then when I walked out of the door, instead of making a right to go back to school, I made a left. We went to our neighbor's house and knocked on the door and asked to borrow their kids' gloves and went down the street and did it again. I walked back to school with my arms full of baseball gloves. And so at those, those skills of not accepting injustice in the world, doing something so that I get justice for myself, but also taking the step of making sure. , other people have justice too.
Carol: I love that story. That's perfect. I mean, here you were in fifth grade, ? Yep. It's taking, standing up for something you believed in and then doing a neighborhood canvas to collect resources for your cause. . I love it. That's great. That's great. So what are you excited about? What's, what's coming up next for you in your work? What's emerging in the work that you're in?
Lisa: So I am super excited. I have decided that 2023 should be my year of being part of more teams. And I'm excited about a couple of ways in which I see that happening. One is already happening, which is that I'm going to be leading a team of nonprofit. Professionals from various parts of North Carolina where I'm based and leading them through a three month a three month workshop, advocacy academy that we're calling it to help them develop advocacy campaigns that also help them build long-term power. So that's super exciting to me. And then I'm, I'm really trying to vision into existence. A few more partnerships with organizations and really on the lookout for organizations that are ready to move beyond that. Oh, we've got an idea, we've got an idea. And instead get into the mode of saying, Let's put a pit in this and think about what our desired outcomes are, what we need to get there, actually put together a campaign strategy, take steps, learn the skills we need. And I'm open to doing training and strategic planning, and that's stuff that I've been doing for years. But I, I've recognized that the work that is most fulfilling to me is when I. Have a more sustained engagement with an organization and really be embedded in that team for at least three months to really work alongside folks and ask the questions that prod people and make observations and congratulate people on their great ideas and help make things successful. So I'm, I'm excited. Looking forward and embracing that work. All right. Well,
Carol: Thank you so much, Lisa. It was great having you on the podcast
Lisa:. Hey, this was awesome, Carol. Thank you so much as well.
Carol: I appreciated how Lisa described intentionally building a ladder of engagement. Recognizing that there are a lot of people who want to help and want to get involved but maybe don’t know how. How to shift someone from an email on your mailing list to someone who more actively shows up for your organization. I appreciated the specificity of her ask – are you willing to do something in the next 3 months. And then provide a menu of options – something that takes 3 minutes, something that takes three hours. And by building a pathway of slowly increasing involvement and responsibility you provide folks a way in and you also have the opportunity to get to know them and vet them. See whether they follow through. Do they show up? Do they do what they say they will do? Do you have to chase them? I have seen smaller organizations want to invite folks on to their board immediately. First being on the board should be just one way to be involved in the organization – even if it is an all volunteer group. And you are taking a huge risk if that is your first ask of folks. It is a big ask for one so one that likely folks who don’t know you that well will say no to. AND you don’t know the person very well either and don’t know how they will or will not contribute to the work of the board. Find smaller ways for folks to be involved. Invite non-board members onto board sponsored committees and work groups. And realize that not everyone is going to make their way all the way up the ladder – some will be perfectly happy showing up for a one off event occasionally or responding to an action alert. And this ladder of engagement can be for advocacy – but it can be for a lot of other things as well. I am on a lot of email lists for organizations that I support. And I get a lot of donation request emails from them. What I don’t see as often is small ways for me to get involved highlighted or featured. Most organizations put a lot of time into thinking about how to make it easy for me to give them money. Not as many organizations have put the thought into making it easy for me to give them time in meaningful ways. This is a big missed opportunity.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Lisa, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support. And until next time, thank you for everything you do to contribute and make an impact. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it on your favorite social media platform and tag us. We appreciate you helping us get the word out. And until next time, thank you for everything you do to contribute and make an impact.
Advocacy with Sharon Anderson
In episode 31 of Mission: Impact, some of the topics that Carol and her guest, Sharon Anderson discussed include:
Important Guest Links:
Carol Hamilton: Welcome Sharon. Welcome to the podcast.
Sharon Anderson: Thank you. Pleasure to be.
Carol: So I'd like to start out with a question of what you, what drew you to the work you do, what motivates you and, and what would you describe as your why?
Sharon: Okay, I would actually say the roots of it really go back to my growing up actually, because I saw with my parents, my family a lot of engagement with community service. And that just resonated with me through whatever form of non-governmental organization, the non-profits space, the ways that people found to address needs. And I just grew up with the sense of how important that was. And then. Having some opportunities to serve on some nonprofit boards and to see it in, in that regard. But I think as far as really the motivator around my consulting with nonprofits came from a project that I worked on for capacity building. And this was one of my friends. Projects. When I started as a consultant, I just saw that need and that space of different nonprofits with really good intentions, but needing support, needing the information to help them take it up to the next level. Yeah. And one of the areas you focus on is helping organizations with their advocacy and policy development starting with a definition, what, what would you describe? How would you describe advocacy? My conversation opener with advocacy is telling your story. And finding a way to make certain that you are clear about what it is that as an organization, what is the organization about, what do you do? Who are you trying to help? What kinds of things are you doing to make those and make improvements. So That for me is the, the why I, and going back to something I mentioned sort of earlier, just looking at, at nonprofit, I saw some times that there were a lot of nonprofit boards in particular that when you said advocacy to them, it was like, oh my gosh, no, I can't, I can't do that. And so that's what I mean. To address the importance of it not only to their sustainability, but also the fact that, yes, there are rules and you can meet those rules and still do what you need to do in this space of advocacy.
Carol: Let’s start with why it's important. And then I'm curious for you to say a little bit more about why you think it's so scary to folks, and then what the reality is.
Sharon: Okay. The reason that I think it's important is the fact that when you really sort of look at it, And sort of put the nonprofit under the microscope. Almost everything that they do is in that sphere of advocacy, there's raising money. You need to be able to advocate for yourself in order to indicate this is why we are a good investment, because this is what we do. And here are the people that we are right. You are looking at issues around sustainability. You need to be able to advocate for your organization in order to get board members, potential board members in the pipeline to get community supporters in the pipeline. And I think more and more now there's a reality to that in that public policy space. There is a place for nonprofits to be able to come to the table and say, this is an important area. So for instance, as a quick example I worked in a couple of areas with a nonprofit dealing with the foster care system and being able at one point to go before the city council to talk about foster care in the city, what was working, what was needed.
And I think sometimes that gets missed in that legislative space. Which is nonpartisan. What you're addressing are the guts of legislation and why certain legislation is important and what's needed in order for the system to function.
Carol: Yeah. And I think it's important for organizations to remember that in that whole public policy and that policy development process, there's often that, that initial steps where legislators are hearing from a lot of people doing hearings, getting testimony, and they may not have even, I don't I'm, I'm not an expert in this, so correct me if I'm wrong, but they may not have even put a bill forward yet. That may be in the formation phase or maybe they have, and, and it's to inform, what else, what might be missing, what needs to be amended. Correct?
Sharon: Yes. and, and at various stages, yes. In some instances they are looking at legislation sometimes within, especially I would say the local and state government sphere, a lot of times when they are doing budget oversight, because a lot of these profits are working with governmental agencies, the question becomes, how are things working? What's working well with that, and what's not working, in order to make any necessary adjustments or changes to the system. And that's a good space for them to be because of the fact that, government. A lot of times it basically needs those kinds of partnerships with nonprofits to help. When I mentioned the foster care system, for instance working with court appointed special advocates, well, it's a nonprofit that brings in the volunteers and trains them, and then they work. The family court system. And so there is a need to have those conversation lanes open in order to make the necessary improvements in order to share here's, here are the trends so that adjustments can be made or, What, what needs to happen to stop what's going on here? How do we protect the children?
Carol: Yeah. And I think that there are a couple of different things in there, but one thing that comes to mind is with all the growing distrust of the government in our country, one of the things I think people don't realize is how it actually is. Non Profit organizations that are actually getting, being granted money, being contracted with, to deliver a lot of these services. So it's not necessarily the government doing it themselves, but empowering it, giving others the resources to then, fulfill those goals and, and, and provide those services. What, what would you say Are some of the misconceptions, especially among boards that folks have around, what nonprofits are and aren't allowed to do in terms of advocacy.
Sharon: I think a lot of times there's a concern because of the discussion around, especially with a 501C3 designation of not lobbying. And so it's that confusion between what is lobbying and what is advocacy and. And sometimes it's like, I don't, I don't even want to touch it and it is daunting. And, and a lot of times too, especially within the state government, sometimes their additional rules are our requirements, but I think it's been. Clear about what it is that this particular agency needs to do. And I think there are also some very clear points where you can say, okay, first and foremost, you don't endorse. You just have to clearly be key. You don't endorse candidates. That is a definite no-no. So stay out of that realm. However, if as a nonprofit. And maybe in partnership with other nonprofits, you want to put together a candidates forum so that your stakeholders in the community can hear what people feel about income support programs, or about. Foster care. I keep sort of circling back to that one or about these literacy programs. Then basically there's a way to do that. You invite all of the candidates and you make certain that they all come and they all answer the same question. And that's a service. That's a part of advocacy, but it's a service to educate your stakeholders.
Carol: And what is the definition of lobby?
Sharon: Lobbying is basically getting into the partisan space. So it's also, it's about the people running for office and saying we do or don't vote for them, do or don't vote for somebody. So that is some part of it. And then the other part of lobbying can also be around. And it's tricky. Area, and I will, it really depends on local guidance a lot of times, but it's around legislation and the extent to which you try to make certain that people are informed about legislation and where the particular nonprofit stands on it. Without necessarily saying now, go out there and change this legislation or, it's, it is a tricky navigation and a lot of times it does depend on the state too. So I'm thinking, for example being able to say that this as an organization, we support. Back in when the affordable care act was being challenged, to be able to say the affordable care act is important because of these reasons for our, our community.And it's an essence saying, think about this Congressperson, council member versus putting forth that debate without getting deep into the politics of, and if you don't do this, then we're not going to vote for you.
Carol: Yeah, the way I've heard it described as, and it's interesting that you say that there's, there's variation at each state and locality. So putting a caveat on that, folks should really pay attention to what the rules are in their local area. But the way I heard it described was, advocacy education, when you're providing information. Stories about your constituents and the people that you work with. Statistics, trends that you're seeing, that's all in the realm of education. And then lobbying is only really, when you say, our members where we're getting part we're part of a coalition and our members are supporting this particular bill, we urge you to vote for it. And, and yeah, without any . Connection to whether or not. The people that you represent, the people that you work with might or might not vote for a particular candidate that being walled off, but the space that, that is okay within limits for non-profits 502 and 501-C 3 is to engage in is that piece of, we urge you to vote for HR. Number one, whatever it is within limits and their limits. But, since it's a pretty narrow definition, very few nonprofits. You know that very few who do some advocacy and are actually gonna run up against that limit. And I think that's the part that boards don't understand.
Sharon: Yeah. And, and it's, it's interesting one of the parts maybe. Right, right. And, and, and of course to the whole, when you look at the range of 5 0 1. Organizations, we always focus on the 5 0 1 C3 because of the fact that they generally tend to be charitable. And then, realizing that there are other nonprofits. Who are in that space of doing endorsements and the likes. So this is why I think it also gets to be tricky for boards because they need to understand the range of things the different options that are available to a non-profit and then just be sure to stay within their space. But I, I definitely agree and appreciate the, when you mentioned the education piece that educating people and that's your stakeholders. Elected officials about what's going on in this space that this nonprofit serves, then you're definitely in an, in your lane, that's the sweet spot for nonprofits advocacy.
Carol: Yeah. And I think that another point that you make is that, W w we quote the part of the IRS code, the 5 0 1 C3 that, that designates one particular type, which is, a large portion of the, of the nonprofit sector, but there are others C4, C5, C6, all who, all of which have different purposes and, and then different rules. But yeah, what we were just talking about really pertains to the C3 category, which is. Most organizations that are trying to do either serving a field or trying to do some educational, some, charitable service work, making things better for people, animals meant the whole range, all of it, the whole of things that could be within a mission. What would you say helps organizations be successful with their advocacy efforts?
Sharon: I think being really clear about What is their advocacy policy and their plan. I think having some very doing that work and what the standards for excellence, for instance, program there. Resources there as far as being able to talk about here's a draft plan, but you need to be clear. So from an organizational perspective, who speaks for the organization. So making certain that they've clearly delineated that if a question comes in, let's say the media calls and says, where do you stand on this? Well, everybody in the organization needs to know who's equipped. Answer that question because not everybody in the organization can answer that. So, you want to be clear about that and also be clear about what the objectives are. So, let me pick another organization, like the league of women voters, there's the league of us and then the league in various localities. And so in the interest of full disclosure, I'm a member of the league and the district of Columbia. And, there's a strong non-partisan state. But there, but the, the educational pieces about making certain that people know about the candidates and that there's an effort made to get feedback from all of the candidates. So in an election year, the policy is going to be, we're doing everything we can to make certain that people understand what the rules and regulations are for voting in our community. During an off year, it may be some other thing, but that's the policy. And then you just have to be able to have what the plan looks like as to how you go about doing that? How do you accomplish that and how do you, what are the outcomes you're targeting?
Carol: Yeah. When one point that you made around who can, who can talk to the media, having a plan for that pause for a second while the train goes by. One of those enthusiastic conductors who really likes to blow their horn.
Sharon: Maybe it has some spectators on the side of the tracks.
Carol: Maybe they're waving and yeah, a couple of points there with who can talk to the media or who can talk, who can represent and speak on behalf of the organization. And especially if, if a stance is being taken, who could write a letter to the editor, all those things I think are really exciting. For groups to have conversations about and know, make sure that everyone's clear. I think one of the things that on any board decision is important is for ma board members to understand that they can only work on behalf of the organization as a whole. And so if they're the board member who's empowered, they then need to. I mean to talk to everybody else. So they have a sense of, they know what the organization stance is. They themselves may have a different opinion and to be really careful and clear, are you talking as XYZ, individual citizen? Or are you speaking now on behalf of the organization?
Sharon: Right? Right. And depending on the nature of that organization, there, there may be some very specific pieces of. You know what that looks like and how that's interpreted. So, the, the league of women voters, I'll go back to that, with their non-partisan position, if you're serving on the board, there is a nonpartisan statement, which indicates that, you have this hat on representing the organization writ large and in the interest of not muddying the waters. It's encouraged that you stay in that lane and not get involved in campaigns, for instance. Of course, as an individual, that's your right, but because you are with the board and people, if they know, especially that you're a board member, it gets a little dicey. And in order to just make it clear that policy is you wouldn't be campaigning.
Carol: So you could, after you're done with your board service, that might be something you choose to do, but while you're a board member, they've made that policy just so that they have a super bright line. And again, that's an individual organizational policy. Others might have different ones, but having those policies and having had discussions and then documenting it about. Yeah, how do we take a stance as an organization? What are they, what has to happen? what discussions and processes have to happen so that we know that we're in agreement on this, et cetera, I think would be super important. Yes. Yes. And you had mentioned the standards of excellence before. I just want to make sure folks know what that is. It's Program that came out of and is still housed within the Maryland nonprofit association, the Maryland association of nonprofit organizations. And it's a way for nonprofits to be accredited in this set of very high standards. The standards of. In all aspects of their operations. So, advocacy is just one component. And all the other things that you need to think about in terms of how you run your nonprofit are part of that accrediting program.
Sharon: Yes. And one of the things that I truly appreciate about the standards for excellence program is that. There is that accreditation process. If an organization chooses, they are very generous with their information. So I often use in the work that I do when I do workshops on advocacy their policy and plan. I, I provide copies of that to say, here's the sample that you might work from, just because they are open with a lot of their information.
Carol: Yeah. And they have samples for all, all other aspects. So I've, I've built used pieces from, and we're both standards of excellence consultants. So we have access to all of this, but I've used their board assessments as a jumping off point when working with the boards and organizational assessments, right. Pretty much everything. And, and even if our organization doesn't decide to go through the entire process, there are aspects that could be really useful. And a lot of the state level associations also offer it. So you don't necessarily have to be in Maryland. This is nationwide.
Sharon: Yes. It is a nationwide program and they have, what's a code which basically provides, guidelines, high level. And the code is easy. There's an app for that.
Carol: I didn't realize I'm going to have to look it up. All right. Well, at the end of each episode, I'd like to play a game where I ask one random icebreaker question. So I have one here for you. I'm out of my handy box of icebreaker questions and it is what is the last random thing that made you smile?
Sharon: Lately, given everything that's been going on with health challenges in the country and the world. The last random thing that made me smile was noticing that birds were starting to be attracted to the flowers on my patio. And, and starting to , I've seen them in the general vicinity flying over, but actually coming down and landing all the table versus just sitting on the fence and it just. Actually that just happened to me before this call. In fact, I just was like, oh wow. And I just was so tickled by that. So it gave me joy.
Carol: Awesome. Awesome. I'm not much of a birder, but we are big. We have a lot of flowers around in our front and there was a Cardinal that came by and landed in a tree. So that dramatic red was quite, quite lovely. Yeah. Lovely birds. So, what are you excited about? What's up next for you? What's emerging in the work that you do
Sharon: Currently we’re making some pivots as far as being, if you will, in the nonprofit space, but I'm starting to work with the national museum of African-American history and culture. And I've worked with them previously, but I'm now working as far as with visitor services and it's just First and foremost, I am just taken by the museum and all that it's done and, and just the immense scope and importance of it. And to have an opportunity to contribute means a lot to me. So for me right now, personally, that's where I am.
Carol: Yeah, it's an amazing, amazing museum. I am definitely going to go back to it because you can, it's not possible to do, to really take all of it in, in one visit. So I definitely need to go back.
Sharon: And, and I just I, I guess I should tread gently here, but I think it's legitimate as an employee. I could still say but wonderful resources on their website too, because and, and a huge. I am biased in the museum space, but the Smithsonian has been doing a wonderful job with all of its museums and digitizing a lot of their information and definitely during the pandemic, making that those resources available as a way to reach everyone and definitely check them out because they're just amazing museums within the system.
Carol: Yeah, I think we forget living here in Washington, how spoiled we are to have those amazing resources. So-called so close by. Yes. All right. Well, thank you so much. It was great having you on the podcast.
Sharon: Well, thank you. I greatly appreciate being invited and I've enjoyed the conversation. Thank you.
I am Carol Hamilton, nonprofit consultant and podcast host. My passion is helping organizations cultivate healthy, inclusive cultures that live their values, fostering learning, creativity and results. Find me at Grace Social Sector Consulting and download free resources.
Grace Social Sector Consulting, LLC, owns the copyright in and to all content in and transcripts of the Mission: Impact podcast, with all rights reserved, including right of publicity.