Article by John Bauters, Policy Director at Californians for Safety and Justice

In this article about the role of advocacy in moving the needle toward ending homelessness, we share three ideas for a successful advocacy campaign to achieve greater impact.

Just a few weeks ago, the Los Angeles chapter of Funders Together to End Homelessness held its quarterly meeting to discuss the role of advocacy in moving the needle toward ending homelessness. The big question at the meeting: What elements of a successful advocacy campaign can philanthropy support to make greater impact?

Advocacy Efforts that Move the Needle blog post for homelessness
From Left to Right: Thank you to our panelists: Jeff Schaffer, Enterprise Community Partners; Sofya Preger, CSH Speak Up; John Bauters, Californians for Safety and Justice; Danielle Wildkress, CSH

Below are the three themes that emerged from the meeting we believe best address just that question:

1) The coalition should define the end goal. A community can’t be expected to march in line and speak up for something they don’t believe in.

Even the noblest battles with the best intentions can fail to spark engagement if the solution offered isn’t one the community is personally invested in, even if it may be to their benefit. Engagement is most successful when there is real community buy-in; when people feel not just ownership over the issues but that they are a meaningful part of the solution as well. Coalitions are strongest when everyone feels responsible for the work and believes in the mission or objective.

2) Advocacy efforts that “co-power” are most successful. The two pronged “co-power” approach includes:

Humanizing the problem because people are better at empathy than math.

While data and strong policy points are definitely critical to successful advocacy, it’s most impactful to “co-power” with those who have experienced the problem you are trying to solve. Homelessness advocacy, for example, is about delivering solutions to people—not reducing statistics—so when a problem’s narrative shifts from population trends to the lived experience of an individual in the room, successful advocacy is more likely. The voices of those we advocate for are powerful and their stories often translate better than a fact sheet full of hard data—and can thus encourage policy makers to really consider those facts.

Supporting research that is needed to provide credibility to advocacy because solid research can turn an advocate into the resident authority on a topic.

Yes, advocacy efforts are stronger when those with lived experience help to humanize the problem, but advocates should also be empowered to quickly capitalize on the spark that personal stories ignite to provide data-driven research and solutions. For example, when a legislator hears a constituent talk about how access to permanent supportive housing ended their homelessness the next questions will be:

  • “How many people are served a year?”
  • “What are the funding streams?”
  • “What would make this program more accessible to others?”

Data-driven research clearly connected to policy solutions can allow an advocate to be a resident authority on the topic and lead to truly persuasive advocacy.

3) Advocates should be working to break silos and foster alliances. Don’t just talk about parallels, but use actions to support common goals and build camaraderie.

Few advocacy groups are independently powerful, especially those working on solutions to poverty. Diverse stakeholder coalitions convey a different and more powerful kind of message to decision-makers: “ALL of us want this.” Advocates should consider where their efforts intersect with those who may have different but similar enough primary aims and work to build a cross-sector collaboration. To build successful collaborations, organizations need to be flexible and willing to lend their support to the primary aims or goals of other organizations. Rejecting a request for support from a potential partner can result in missed opportunities to build camaraderie.