Social Work Advocacy in Tough Times

Social Work
Advocacy in Tough Times
How you can integrate effective
advocacy into your social work
practice, to strengthen your
organization and better serve
your clients
Who said this? And when?
 “We are all being told that we have to be
pragmatic and recognize that this is not a “good”
year for social issues, especially if they cost
money. That implies that there may yet be a
good year for social issues, if only we have
patience. But no Congress has ever come to
Washington vowing to make things right for the
poor, the vulnerable, for workers, or for the
environment. In that sense, this year is different
only in degree.”
You CAN do Advocacy
 Advocacy that does NOT include a ‘call to action’ (including most
community practice) is NOT lobbying and is, therefore, unlimited!
 Educating community, tracking bills, leadership development, nonpartisan voter
 Nonprofit 501(c)3 organizations are allowed to lobby.
 For “non-electing” organizations, lobbying must be “no substantial part of a
charity’s activities.”
 This includes expenditures, time and energy devoted by staff and volunteers,
and success in achieving advocacy goals.
 The 501(h) election allows nonprofit organizations to lobby with greater clarity
and less worry.
 By filling out a simple 501(h) form, 501(c)3 organizations can be judged
instead by specific dollar limits set on lobbying.
 Can turn into the IRS at any time; keep a copy for your records
 These nonprofits have no limits on their free (volunteer) lobbying activities
and can spend up to 20% of the first $500,000 of their annual
organization’s budget on lobbying (although no more than 25% of this can
be spent on grassroots lobbying).
“Here’s what we can and can’t do”
 Safe Activities
Public education about
policy issues (with a ‘call
to action’, it counts as
Nonpartisan voter
registration drives
Candidate surveys (with
Lobbying within legal
Policy analysis without a
“call to action”
 Unsafe Activities
Candidate endorsements
Campaign contributions
Candidate pledges
Partisan GOTV
Exceeding lobbying
limits, or failing to keep
track of lobbying activities
Failing to distinguish
between “grassroots” and
“direct” lobbying
You SHOULD Do Advocacy
The NASW Code of Ethics includes some specific mandates to
engage in advocacy
‘challenge social injustice’, ‘advocate within and outside their agencies for
adequate resources to meet clients’ needs (3.07a)
‘advocate for living conditions conducive to the fulfillment of basic human
needs and should promote social, economic, political, and cultural values
and institutions that are compatible with the realization of social justice’
‘engage in social and political action that seeks to ensure that all people
have equal access to the resources, employment, services, and
opportunities they require to meet their basic human needs and to develop
fully’ (6.04a).
There are also implicit requirements to engage in advocacy, as
it is necessary in order to ‘promote the well-being of their clients’
(1.01), and to fulfill the social work mission statement (given that
the status quo creates and perpetuates social problems and
human need).
None of these requirements are conditioned on availability of
resources (including time, staff, or money).
Why now?
 Times are tight, and everything is on the chopping block:
 For FY2009, Kansas had a $186 million gap and Missouri a $542
million gap in general funds
 For FY2010, Kansas faces a gap of 22% of the general fund;
Missouri of more than 10%
 Across the country, states are closing these gaps by cutting
education, services to elderly and disabled, state workforce, and
other social welfare functions.
 Nationally, despite a more progressive administration, we
have a long way to go:
 All ‘non-defense discretionary’ spending accounts for only 18% of the
federal budget (divided up among all of our social welfare work, plus
transportation and environment and lots more)
 U.S. has lower rate of social welfare investment than most other
developed countries, and it shows—families more vulnerable,
communities more strained
But it’s so bad, we can’t expect much…
 The Great Depression brought us Social Security, the
cornerstone of our social insurance system, singlehandedly responsible for lifting millions of children
and seniors out of poverty
 The late 1960s, in the middle of an ugly war in
Vietnam, Congress passed Food Stamps, Medicaid,
Medicare, and milestone civil rights legislation
 We have real opportunities, even in these budget
Public opinion more amenable to investments, because pain
is shared
Some sympathetic members of Congress looking to retain
Greater technical expertise has shown us what ‘works’ and
allowed us to prove it
Strengths-based social workers: what else?
Okay, but how?
From clients to constituents to leaders
 Engaging those you serve as full partners not
only practices empowerment and leads towards
their actualization, but it also reduces the
demands on professional staff
 Requires a mental shift from staff: using new
language, renegotiating boundaries
 Expect some time to adjust and
some role confusion initially
 Introduce social action into your
Legislative Advocacy
 Appeal to interests
 Requires getting to know what
they care about, getting
affected individuals in front of
them, and meeting in person
whenever possible
 Present accurate, compelling
 In accessible format, that
makes them look informed
 Make an electoral case
 How it will affect them in direct
votes or overall electability
 Use media and public pressure
 Minimize controversy by
controlling the debate
Emails or other mass
communication from those
outside of their districts
Threats related to their elections
Solely emotional appeals (or
solely intellectual ones)—will
only firm up your existing
Relying on allies to carry your
message for you (especially
paid lobbyists, who have
connections but not your
Using the exact same
message/strategy for all
Ignoring the staff to focus only
on lawmakers
Low-Investment Strategies that Work
 Federal legislative advocacy—you don’t have to go to
Washington, DC!:
In-district delegations
Teleconference to DC staffers
Legislative open house at your agency
Use media to reach
Letters and phone calls still matter
 State legislative advocacy:
Call on your issues
Visit on Fridays, off-session
Target committees and work with your networks
Don’t forget local government!
Cities and counties control disbursement of
many state and federal funds, zoning and
other local regulations that affect NPOs, and
direct provision of core services
Local scale facilitates relationship-building:
Attend hearings (with clients)
Meet directly with council people
Work with staff on technical solutions
Ask local officials to intervene on state and federal
issues, too
Get inspired—success stories!
MASW and tax credit for Individual
Development Accounts
KAC and booster seat law
KIDS accounts in Learning Quest
Instate tuition in Kansas
UCS, Kansas Catholic Conference and KS
Regulatory Advocacy
Many of the ‘details’ that give policies their
teeth are found in regulations, not
Monitoring this implementation can expose
potential problems and opportunities, but
intentional intervention is needed
Work with agency staff in advance of
drafting, submit formal comments, use
media to spur change/increase compliance
How to win with regulations
Play defense: against restrictive eligibility
rules, inadequate staffing ratios, inaccurate
definitions, conflicting rules, erosion of your
legislative victories
Win what you couldn’t win legislatively:
more expansive eligibility, larger program
mandate, stronger appeal/civil rights
Get inspired—success stories!
REAL ID Act—stalled in the regulations
phase, put more pressure on Congress for
Safe food advocates have used rule-making
to improve safety standards for meat in
school, pasteurized milk, and other products
Environmental advocates work through
regulations to strengthen protections in clean
air/water, endangered species, and other
critical environmental legislation
Judicial Advocacy
Judiciary’s role especially important when
legislatures and executives constrained by
budget concerns
Make policy without regard to fiscal
Can intervene with injunctions, oversight,
contempt of court
Advocates use courts to obtain information,
seek redress, force negotiation, inform
Why would I want to go to court?
And do I have to be a lawyer?
 Heightened exposure—
people pay attention to
 Possibility of dramatic,
even expensive, changes
 Can recoup legal costs if
 Create new legal rights
for clients—foundation for
future advocacy
 Can recruit plaintiffs or
 Author amicus curiae
briefs (or just sign)
 Conduct background
 Fundraise to defray costs
or recruit pro bono
 Provide media support
Get inspired—success stories!
 Goldberg v. Kelley (property right to receive
welfare, 1970)
King v. Smith (ended man-in-the-house and other
discriminatory welfare rules, 1968)
 Brown v. BOE (1954)—and much of civil rights
 Olmstead v. L.C. Ex Rel. Zimring (unwarranted
institutionalization is a form of discrimination, 1999)
Bradley v. Haley (2000, mental health care for
 Several SPLC cases against hate groups (1980s,
 Penny Doe v. Richardson (1998, homeless
children’s right to education)
Agency Advocacy
 Sometimes, it is our own social work agency whose policies
are contrary to our clients’ (and our) interests
 Turning our advocacy inward can have dramatic impact on
client well-being, since this is a point of direct contact:
 Program goals: “what is ‘success’?”
 Evaluation techniques and outcomes measures
 Staffing levels and requirements
 Controlling access (one of our most powerful tools):
 Eligibility rules
 Incentives and sanctions
 Accessibility (hours, locations, language)
 Processes (appeals, notice of budget decisions)
 Access to power (Board, transparency)
 Implementation decisions
How to do this without (hopefully) losing
your job?
Understand the organizational imperatives
driving your agency, and appeal to those
Advocate for change consistent with
organizational culture—root in core values
Build a coalition for change
Document the problem, your proposed
solution, steps you’re taking, responses
Get inspired—success stories!
Clients change a mental health center’s
policy on no-shows for transportation
Staff change hours of service to
accommodate client schedules
Agency adds clients to Board and
provides simultaneous translation
Media Advocacy
 Editorials
 Meetings with editorial boards, prepare materials
specific to their communities, have a hook
 Letters to the editor
 Draft letters to be submitted by allies
 Earned media
 Press advisories, relationships with reporters who cover
statehouse/Congress/local government, organization of events to
generate coverage, prepare multiple responses as contingencies
for votes/actions
 Paid advertising (only buy what you can’t get otherwise)
 Collecting information from reporters
 Sharing media coverage with policymakers
 In packets, for visits, with staff
Even if you have to be on TV, it’s worth
Increased exposure—including to potential
Ability to set the tone/parameters of
debate on your issues
Relationships with media professionals
Practice telling your story—an essential
part of fundraising
Social media=not just conveying content
but making connections
Get Inspired—Success Stories!
A. in the Kansas City Star
Invisible Kansans (YouTube, billboard)
Susan Wagle and the Wichita Eagle
Piedmont Peace Project
We are Marie campaign
Get Started—Easy Ways to Begin
 Write letters, call, send emails to elected officials
 Everybody does this after one staff meeting (5 minutes)
 Make the connections between “cases” and “causes” with
staff, clients, and community
 Committee to discuss common concerns, or electronic way of
tracking systemic problems (meet 4x/year)
 Watch for news coverage of political or policy issues
 Commitment to respond with a press release or letter to the editor
 Engage your clients
 Voter registration at intake, invitations to participate
 Comment on regulations
 Sign up for alerts from like-minded organizations
 Join a coalition in the community, designate a staff member to
forward pertinent alerts, use social media to connect with relevant
Once you get hooked…
 Sponsor a Lobby Day for your organization or issue
 Set up visits for Board members, a group of clients, and some
 Host a public forum with candidates or elected officials
 Collaborate with other organizations/coalitions
 Organize a campaign to generate calls to legislators
 Use your donor files (people enjoy being asked for something
besides $$!)
 Publish a regular community newsletter
 Feature your organization’s achievements as well as key
policy/community concerns
 Testify at committee hearings with clients
 Work with legislators to draft and move bills
 Follow up with your clients for GOTV
 Get students or volunteers to make phone calls 2 weeks before
Election Day
Measuring Impact and Claiming Victory
Have a clear theory of change
Convert the process goals
we commonly use in advocacy to outcome
Balance realistic and aspirational goals as
we set our benchmarks.
Push back somewhat on the drive towards
quantification of results
Making the Case: Advocacy and the
Agency Bottom Line
Approach your leadership as you would any
advocacy target—your aim is to convince
and compel
There are absolutely risks, but organizations
that engage in advocacy often see:
Enhanced visibility and reputation
Greater aura of expertise
Enhanced client loyalty/commitment
Greater staff creativity and passion, lower turnover
Greater stability—power helps to weather storms
Resources to Help
Handouts provided:
Web resources
Lobbying tips
How to write letters to the editor
Media tips
State legislative overviews
Tips on working with media
 blog on social work
advocacy and organizing

similar documents