Archive for the ‘Alliance Building’ Category

Communities Fuel Social Change

April 2011

On March 18, an 11-month-old from my hometown, Watertown, NY, was critically injured by a child abuser. I don’t know this little girl, nor do I know her family.  But in small communities that doesn’t matter. In a small community, tragedy experienced by one is felt by all and my heart aches for them.

What has happened in response to this tragedy is a testament to the passion of people in small communities, and is an amazing example of what is possible when one or two individuals leverage their personal communications channels to push for social change.

Starting with a Facebook Page

Team Kate,” named in honor of this beautiful baby, was created on Facebook by friends of Kate’s mom to show their love and support for the family. My friend from high school, Maura, is one of the founders. Within a few days, Team Kate had more than a thousand supporters and many of my friends had FOR KATE hearts in their Facebook profiles.

Rallying with a Community Event

Maura didn’t stop there. She began coordinating a community-wide rally in support of Kate’s recovery. Within a week, Team Kate’s Facebook page was filled with offers for donations to support the event – free space, free food, free raffle items, free entertainment, free promotion from the media, people wanting to come, people wanting to donate – the list goes on. On Sunday, April 10 hundreds of people showed up in support of Baby Kate.

Taking it to Beyond the Community to Help Others

In late March, baby Kate celebrated her first birthday – in a hospital – because of a child abuser. On that day, several hundred people – some who know her, many who don’t – wished her a happy birthday through Team Kate’s Facebook page.  And in less than 24 hours, more than 750 people signed a petition that Maura created in Kate’s honor to advocate for more severe punishments for child abusers.

This goes to show that social change doesn’t depend on political parties or Capitol Hill. It depends on people who passionately seek justice and communities that fight for those who can’t.

Coalition Building: The First Step of a Policy Revolution

April 2010

I love watching TED videos.  They always feature interesting guest speakers from different industries and professions who share innovative ideas and discuss unusual topics.  Recently, TED released a video from CD Baby founder and entrepreneur Derek Sivers‘ talk in February.  His brief lecture centered on the leadership lessons we could learn from the video of a random guy dancing on the lawn during a concert.  Watch his brief presentation here:

Derek’s insights got me wondering if a policy revolution could follow the same road map.  Even blogger Rohit Bhargava of Influential Marketing Blog suggests that Sivers formula is similar to the process he used to turn his Social Media Optimization concept into a revolution within the social media community.  We can use the same lessons as we design our policy change revolutions.

As Sivers highlights in his TED presentation, it’s the first follower that really starts the movement.  Until the first person joins the lone dancer, he looks inconsequential and no one takes him seriously.  Alone, observers might notice him, but then they lose interest and pay attention to something else.

Policy revolutions work the same way.  While every revolution needs a leader to sound the alarm, leading organizations need to recruit “followers” through partnerships with like-minded, diverse organizations to build effective policy change movements.  Without additional organizations rallying with you and behind your issue, policy calls to action can fall on deaf ears, eventually losing volume and credibility.  As a result, policy reform campaigns also lose impact among policymakers.

After one organization joins the leading group to create social change, it will become easier to build alliances with other organizations.  The crowd of supporters will follow, extending the size, reach and significance of a policy movement.

Earlier this month, a group of energy-concerned companies and advocacy organizations joined together to sign and submit a letter to President Obama requesting that consumer access to energy information, such as real-time electricity pricing information in their homes and business, become a national priority. The letter got the attention of and praise from Carol Browner, assistant to the President on Energy and Climate Change — an unlikely result if only one of these organizations had petitioned the White House for action.

Working together, anything is possible — even for the guy or organization dancing to the beat of their own drummer.  So the lesson learned from the shirtless dancing guy?  Starting a policy change revolution is more than just demonstrating the willingness to be in front, but the commitment to find that first follower to build a coalition and start a real movement.

Policymaker Report Cards Offer New Exposure for Issues and Messages

February 2010

Personally, one of my least favorite school activities as a student was report card day. While I often knew in advance what the report card would say, I was always anxious about my parents’ reaction. Knowledge may be power, but I think we can all admit that sometimes there are things we wish our parents didn’t know about our academic achievements – or lack thereof.


Like our younger selves, policymakers don’t like report cards, but the tactic can definitely get an organization noticed in the media and the public. More advocacy organizations are using report cards — or scorecards — to draw attention to the performance (i.e. voting record) of Congressional and state legislators on a variety of policy issues.

Recently Environment America — a nonprofit, nonpartisan environmental advocacy organization — issued their annual Congressional scorecard. It identified members of Congress who are “Washington’s environmental champs” – policymakers who voted for the environment 100% of the time in the past 18 months on major environmental issues. The scorecard also called out policymakers who are “natural disasters” and did not support environmental legislation and/or issues. State affiliates of Environment America also replicate this approach and release scorecards focusing on their state’s representatives, as Environment Washington did in December.

Outside of the environmental movement, other advocacy groups also use the scorecard as a tool to bring awareness to and action on their issue. For example, the Human Rights Campaign issues a Congressional Scorecard each year to show how members of Congress have voted on equality issues. The Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law has an interactive Web site dedicated to their annual scorecards on how Representatives and Senators voted  on anti-poverty legislation. The Web site even allows visitors to compare legislators’ grades.

Federal and state policymakers don’t like their voting records publicized and publicly evaluated. Their constituents (policymakers’ “parents” in this metaphor) are often unaware of the voting behavior and legislative actions of their representatives, and a scorecard can provide them a new, easy to understand viewpoint to evaluate their representative’s performance.

Issuing scorecards can also open doors for organizations looking to build relationships and alliances with key policymakers. Media coverage resulting from a scorecard release draws attention from Capitol Hill and state legislative staffers to your organization and may inspire — or force in an election year like this one — legislators to change their viewpoint and voting record on an issue.  In addition, scorecards provide valuable, concise information and data to reporters covering that policy issue and will help position your organization as an expert and resource for future insights.

In spite of the discomfort it causes lawmakers, the scorecard/report card approach is an effective tool in the policy communications arsenal to expand an organization’s message exposure. Hopefully, it will reinforce supportive policymakers to continue championing the issue or pressure failing legislators to improve their grade and make the honor roll on their next report card.

Welcome to the New InSites Blog!

January 2010

It’s the start of a new year and a time to try new things. With that in mind, I’ve been asked by Vanguard staff to kick off the year with a blog about social change communications.  Hmmm…

For me it’s easy to think about how a social media tactic, such as blogging, can help our clients advance their causes, yet it’s much harder to embrace the tactic for myself and our firm. Partially, it’s because I’m used to being “behind the curtain” helping make Vanguard’s clients and their issues be the stars of the show. And, partially, it’s because it’s a little intimidating to have the pressure of a regular blog post. That’s why I’ve decided that the only way I’d do this is if I had partners to share the load, so I’ve recruited Vanguard staff members to put themselves “out there” along with me!

It’s really exciting for me to have this opportunity to introduce some of Vanguard’s staff to you because they are truly amazing individuals with extraordinary talents. They come from all over the U.S. and several foreign countries, plus a few of us are native Washington, D.C.-born (yes, we do exist). In our more than 20 years in this business, we’ve been fortunate to partner with many exceptional individuals and organizations to address some of society’s most pressing issues. Through our InSites blog, we will share our insights (a little play on words just for fun!) about these issues and how communications and marketing can support social change. Our hope is that you’ll check in with us when you can and be inspired to adopt a new or old communications and marketing strategy to address an issue that’s important to you.

I should mention that this blog is an evolution of Vanguard’s monthly InSites e-newsletter and podcast, which we’ve been producing since 2006.  If you already subscribe to our monthly e-newsletter, you’ll continue to receive monthly e-mails featuring our best blog posts of each month. And, you’ll still be able to listen to the InSites podcast, which will now expand upon blog content as the issues demand it.  You can subscribe to both of them using the sign up field on the left.

Welcome to the new home of InSites and wish me luck with being on this side of the curtain!