Note from Beth: As part of my work at the Packard Foundation, I’ve had the honor of designing and facilitating a “networked capacity building project” for a cluster of grantees, state-based groups, to be more effective in engaging their networks toward covering uninsured children. The project is in its second year and I’ve been working in collaboration with Spitfire Strategies. Just like message consistency, storytelling, and interviewing skills, building robust networks and using social media can help these advocacy organizations make change happen for children in their state.
The project design is based on the “Crawl, Walk, Run, Fly” framework that helps each organization incrementally develop the skills and capacity to work as a newtorked nonprofit. An important design component is the strategy for spreading knowledge and skills for participants by using small experiments with some measurement that help them improve and learn. The facilitation requires a balance of expert content delivery with being a guide on the side the life up the learning. The ultimate metric for success is that network becomes self-sustaining – and, of course, has helped changed policies to make their states more child friendly in terms health care.
Elevating Advocacy Voices for Children Through Social Media – Guest Post by Barbara Munoz
“Life Elevated.” Utah’s tourism slogan captures the physical wonders of our state, which has some of the best skiing, highest deserts and deepest canyons in the world. Unofficially, we’re known as “family-friendly” or “a good place to raise your kids,” and we can back that up, too. Utah has the highest birth rate in the country (88 births per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44) and the youngest population – almost a third of Utahns are under the age of 18. Given that so many of our state’s residents are minor children, you’d think we would apply the ideal of “life elevated” to health care and education funding. Sadly, this is not the case.
Utah is dead last in the nation for education funding per pupil. We are so far behind we’d have to increase our current spending levels by nearly 20 percent just to catch up with number 49. We also have the highest rates of uninsured children in the nation, with one in six Utah kids lacking coverage. Of course, we are “redder” than most states – our governor and 80 percent of our legislature are Republicans. This helps explain the fiscal conservativeness that guides state spending priorities, despite the
fact that we have one of the lowest unemployment and a relatively strong economy. In fact, this year the state is anticipating a budget surplus.
Given the challenging environment facing children’s advocates who see the negative consequences of underfunding health and education every day, it is hard to
avoid playing defense and falling into the negative rhetoric that dominates the dialogue around public assistance programs. It’s also hard to change the
conversation and make headway on the policy front when everyone is approaching the issue with the same negative messaging frame. It turns out there is a
In 2008, the Packard Foundation invited Voices for Utah Children to participate in the Narrative Project, which was designed to change the conversation around children’s
coverage. Being part of the Narrative helped us establish ambitious goals, find our voice and then stay on message without falling into the defensive posture
of the past. Using this positive philosophy in Utah and taking into account our political and cultural environment means that our messaging briefly acknowledges the challenges facing kids in our state but heavily emphasizes our solutions and the progress we are making. In many ways, this approach closely mirrors what I learned in 10 years as an on-air personality at a Salt Lake City radio station: use a consistent voice, be upbeat, repeat your key message often while keeping it fresh and interesting, and, above all, try not to annoy them.
Voices for Utah Children has continued to employ the Narrative approach to messaging even as that original project evolved into the Packard Foundation’s Finish
Line grantmaking strategy, which provides states with policy expertise in conjunction with strategic communications counsel. Recognizing an opportunity
to leverage social media as a way to engage our key audiences, Packard created the Friending the Finish Line project in July 2011. Through Friending, we receive social
media coaching and technical assistance that helps us develop and maintain a strategic, deliberate and impactful approach to using our social media
Like many state advocates, we were already on Facebook and Twitter when the Friending project started, but we weren’t always entirely sure how to use them
effectively. At that time, we only had about 100 Twitter followers – many of them local businesses trying to get us to follow them – and 175 Facebook fans
largely comprised of our friends, families and board members. Often, our approach to social media had been the “spaghetti method” – we threw things up
against the wall to see what stuck. Being part of the Friending project opened our eyes to the vast amount of research and guidance that could help us make
effective use of social media. Monthly webinars with the project’s social media facilitator Beth Kanter and a vibrant peer learning community have given us a clear picture of how social media can be a powerful component of our advocacy work.
No longer throwing spaghetti at the wall, we are considering the quality of the information we share on Facebook and Twitter, steadily growing our network of
fans and followers, tailoring messaging to be platform-appropriate, and using images and eye-catching headlines to make sure our messages are seen and read.
We are also starting to hone in on the nexus between social media and face-to-face advocacy. Voices for Utah Children recently helped host a conference on
possible solutions to the problem of intergenerational poverty. During the conference, we premiered a video produced by University of Utah students that combined powerful images and data about children in poverty in our state. After the conference, I was approached by an employee of the State Office of Child Care who asked if I would be willing to present the video at an upcoming conference of Utah afterschool programs. I was given a few minutes to show the video and talk about our
advocacy work as an organization. I encouraged participants to take out their smart phones and like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. As a result, we
got 10 new Facebook fans and five new Twitter followers that day, all of whom are part of one of our key audiences. We were thrilled to see social media lead
to an in-person presentation which allowed us to engage new people in our social media network.
We are proud to say that after 18 months of Friending we have greatly expanded our Facebook and Twitter communities while expanding the social media capacity of our
organization. We are also taking advantage of opportunities to learn – next month, we’re receiving training on video advocacy from Adam Searing of the
North Carolina Access Coalition so we can begin to use the power of video to enhance our advocacy. We will also be looking for new opportunities to align
our online and offline messaging and work toward true “message echo” from our fellow advocates, state agencies and even an elected official or two!
Utah’s mountains and business-friendly state policies have defined “Life Elevated” in the past. But we’re determined to extend this concept to our advocacy, our
children and our most vulnerable, too. Thanks to the Narrative Project’s positive message framework and the ongoing technical assistance and expertise we
get from Spitfire Strategies through Finish Line and the Friending project, we will elevate life for Utah’s children.
Barbara Munoz is health policy associate at Voices for Utah Children where she advocates to make Utah a place where all children thrive.