- Sun, November 09 2008
- Filed under: Advocacy
I’m blogging from the opening day of Independent Sector, from the first-day session, “Harnessing Election Momentum for Nonprofit Causes.” On the panel are Maya Enista of Mobilize.org, Benjamin Todd Jealous of the NAACP and Janet Murguia of the National Council of La Raza. (I’m sitting next to fellow blogger Rosetta Thurman, whose fingers are flying. Be sure to read her stuff, too. She’s someone to watch in our sector.)
I’d sum up the session for you this way: What the election teaches us – and what we need to sustain the kind of momentum it created among so many audiences – requires two things. The themes were:
1. Audience appeal
2. Infrastructure (both human and technological)
By audience appeal, I mean the ability to appeal to the personal concerns of your audience. If you read this blog regularly, then you know I say this ad nauseum. You probably want to plug your ears by now. But I have to keep saying it, because it’s so very true. And we so often forget.
The panelists offered great examples of the power of an audience-centric approach on the campaign trail.
Benjamin Jealous talked about jobs and financial security as top issues among his members.
Maya Enista talked about how the youth vote turned out because “the candidates gave youth a reason to vote. They talked about jobs, the cost of college, personal debt and predatory lending on college campuses, and they used online engagement to do it.” She said “We need to know the issues that appeal.”
Janet Murguia talked about the importance of the rhetoric around immigration in engaging her community, as well as the “Yes we can” message of hope harkening back to Chavez and resonating with Latino voters, a group she calls aspirational in nature. Maya Enista talked about calling her mother the night of the election at 11 pm and asking her, “Mom, is this the reason you immigrated here?” Her mother said “yes” through her tears.
It’s all about personal relevance. So learn it from the campaign trail: It’s the audience, stupid, and it always will be. An appeal to your audience’s values is the only way to get and keep momentum.
Second, you need the engine behind, around and underneath that audience. The panelists identified one obvious engine: community-based organizations. That’s the human, organizational part of the engine. If those community-based organizations work together, which is hard to accomplish in our sector at a time where everyone is fighting for grants, you get a super-engine. (Maya suggests we need not only more cooperation but some mergers as well.)
They also discussed a second engine: online engagement. That’s the technological part of the engine. The Obama campaign may not have invented Facebook, as Maya reminded us, but they sure knew how to tap into the platform and all social media to mobilize a younger generation. This is an era when you can enable someone to learn the location of their polling station via Twitter. Online tools put word of mouth on steroids. They also do wonders for your outreach, your fundraising, everything. They enable you to do less with more, as well as to reach new audiences.
It’s the audience and the engines you tap. No matter how small your cause or how puny your pocketbook, you can accomplish much if you keep that in mind.
More to come from the conference – stay tuned!