Advocacy as a Tool to End Childhood Hunger
“We’ve come too far and fought too hard to let what we do get washed away by tides of cynicism or special interests or political paralysis.”
– Billy Shore, co-founder and CEO, Share Our Strength
The Starting Point:
In Billy Shore’s words: “Share Our Strength was an organization that had a mission of funding other anti-hunger efforts. Everybody loved what we were doing. The only people who were not satisfied were those of us who worked at Share Our Strength. We didn’t have any way of knowing if childhood hunger was getting better or worse. Without a specific measure of success, it was impossible to know if the funding we provided was equal to 1 percent of what was needed or 50 percent. We weren’t actually solving the problem. We had to change.”
There are 21 million kids in this country who are eligible for a free school breakfast and lunch by virtue of their families’ low income, but Share Our Strength discovered that only nine million were getting breakfast, and during the summer, when the schools are closed, only three million kids were getting that nutrition. The food is there. The resources are there. The nutrition programs are there. The critical ingredients for success were in place, but efforts around the nation were largely uncoordinated, unsustainable, and had an emphasis on relief rather than long-term, transformational change.”
When Share Our Strength drilled down on all of the aspects of hunger both international and here in the U.S., it concluded that kids in this country who are hungry on a chronic basis is actually a solvable problem.
Hand in hand with partners, the organization focused on building the foundation necessary to create lasting, transformational change. In doing so, Share Our Strength identified six ingredients essential for ending childhood hunger. First among these: Take a leap of imagination. Share Our Strength conceived and launched the No Kid Hungry campaign in 2010. The new goal was not to identify domestic childhood hunger, but to end it.
“Our initial failure of imagination was to focus on feeding people, which other groups are already doing well — rather than ending hunger. We had no specific goal and therefore no way of knowing whether we were moving toward it. To define our goal, we thought about the writer Jonathan Kozol’s advice to pick battles big enough to matter but small enough to win. So we refocused our broad-based anti-hunger efforts on a specific sub-set, hungry children in the U.S., and realized it was possible to do more than just feed them. We could actually end childhood hunger.”
Another key component included having a robust public policy strategy. The No Kid Hungry campaign found practical, bipartisan solutions, working with governors and other elected officials from both parties. “Kids are not only vulnerable, they’re voiceless. Kids don’t have political action committees. So, we’ve gone state to state and added literally hundreds of thousands of kids to the nutrition programs that can feed them. Yes, there are all kinds of logistical obstacles, but they are all manageable once the state commits to it.”
Shore also states the importance of identifying then focusing on what matters most. Creating a new strategy also meant honing the approach, learning what works, and discarding what doesn’t to create efficient, practical solutions. At times, that meant making unpopular short-term decisions to stay focused on Share Our Strength’s long-term goals. Taking a cue from successful presidential campaigns, the organization understood the need for big, early wins in key markets. It devoted significant resources to key states and measured its success through metrics, return on investment and meeting historic feeding milestones in ways that would create a replicable, scalable solution in any state.
Another essential component: building a network of partnerships. Share Our Strength also identified the need to connect with the larger national conversation, rather than framing childhood hunger as a stand-alone issue. Partnership is key to No Kid Hungry. Says Shore, “I wish more people wanted to talk about childhood hunger, but for very good reasons, they want to talk about education, health care, and jobs. So, we started to reframe our issue to make it more accessible to more people and to underscore its connection to the issues they want to talk about, because, as we know, none of these issues exist by themselves. Broadening the base of support allows us to bring strengths together and multiply their impact.”
No Kid Hungry and its partners became a driving force in transforming many of the programs that feed kids in need during the school year and out-of-school time. Since 2010, for the first time in history, participation in the national school breakfast program among kids from low-income families has crested the 50 percent mark. And seven of the top 10 states with the largest increases in summer feeding all had an active presence of No Kid Hungry. For example, in the summer of 2013, Arkansas programs served 1.6 million more meals than the previous year, and in New York City, through partnerships with government agencies and investments in infrastructure like mobile meal trucks, more than 500,000 additional meals were served to kids in a single summer.
“We’ve come too far and fought too hard to let what we do get washed away by tides of cynicism or special interests or political paralysis. Most of our organizations are created in response to market failures. There’s no economic market for feeding hungry kids. They also are a response to a failure in the political market — and when those markets fail, the first responders are in the nonprofit sector. But by working together, I believe we can create lasting change,” says Shore.
This case study was excerpted and adapted with permission from keynote comments made by Share Our Strength’s co-founder and CEO, Billy Shore, at the 2012 BoardSource Leadership Forum.
A Culture Shift for Board Members
The Starting Point
The YWCA of Seattle/King and Snohomish County is a 120-year old organization with a $31.2 million budget, a $25 million endowment, $81 million in capital assets, and 20 facilities that serves more than 51,000 people. With these levels of resources and impact, the organization realized that board advocacy is essential to maintain, sustain, and grow its social impact and fulfill its mission — to advance the quality of life for women of all ages, races, and faiths, and their families.
The board advocacy work began through the board’s collective agreement that public policies have the potential to contribute to the problems the YWCA is trying to solve and that the board has a role to play in helping create solutions to those problems.
The organization focused on building a collective understanding on the board about how to make impact through advocacy and on institutionalizing board advocacy work as a key component of the strategy to grow the YWCA’s mission impact.
Connecting the problems faced by the women served by the organization to the public policies that impact them was a key step — for example, between the need for public housing and declining federal funding and support for public housing, between the need for immigrant/refugee integration and an eight-month “cliff” of social safety-net supports, and between corrections and release practices. Educating and making these connections for the board allowed its members to see that advocacy can help provide for sustainable social solutions around these issues — that the need for public housing could be positively addressed through policies that enhanced “moving to work” programs, that the issue of immigrant/refugee integration could be positively addressed through policies that improved the capacity of mutual assistance associations to provide social supports, that corrections issues could be positively addressed through policies that provided for discharge planning to support effective prisoner release.
The increased understanding led to the board’s commitment to use its resources to influence the state and local jurisdictions to change policies that were negatively impacting the organization’s social outcomes.
The board’s increased understanding and commitment allowed the YWCA Seattle/King and Snohomish County to determine which policies it wanted to review and improve first. In doing so, it realized that making the case for improvement is often about money. The public will to improve the quality of lives of women also needed to make sense for the short- and long-term financial health of the YWCA, the counties, and the state of Washington.
The YWCA Seattle/King and Snohomish County dedicated their efforts and invested their work in the mental and public health systems, policies that directly impacted women and families and policies that supported the overarching services YWCA provided. Then, they connected the investments needed to the budgets; including their own budget, more than 50 percent of which is funded by the government.
Finally, internally, the YWCA Seattle/King and Snohomish County began institutionalizing advocacy by doing the following:
- Creating venues, platforms, and messages for the advocacy champions who already served on the board
- Recruiting high-profile members of the community (such as the Gates Foundation’s chief advocacy officer, the CEO of the Seattle Foundation and a former Seattle mayor, and past City Council members) to advocate on the organization’s behalf
- Inviting speakers and guests who had influence in the community to events and hearings and testimonies
- Installing “Guard Rails”
- Becoming exceedingly knowledgeable about federal guidelines and educating board members on what they could not do — support or oppose candidates — and what they could do —advocate on issues and legislation
- Ensuring that that all of their champions were knowledgeable about the YWCA’s framework, guiding principles, and annual priorities
- Embedding Advocacy Into the Business
- Including advocacy as an expected component of board work in the board member job description
- Conducting a public policy engagement survey to let the community know that the YWCA Seattle/King and Snohomish County cares about the policies being debated and decided upon
The engagement of the YWCA Seattle/King and Snohomish County on advocacy has led to internal shifts in culture. Its board members now understand that 1.) social service agencies can and should be involved in public policy for mission impact and because of their government funding, and 2.) advocating for the policies that impact lives and for the funding that empowers women and eliminates racism will build stronger Seattle, King, and Snohomish counties.
Furthermore, the board and organization has played a role in enhancing policies through the Growth Management Act, King County’s Comprehensive Plan, Moving to Work – Section 8, through increasing tax-exempt bonds and housing tax credit allocations, and through creating a 10-year plan to end homelessness.
Music Education Restored After 15 Years
The Starting Point
The San Diego Youth Symphony and Conservatory’s board advocacy work began with a reexamination of the organization’s mission statement in late 2006 as it sought to grapple with board member disagreement. Some members believed SDYS should focus on pursuing musical excellence, while others wanted to increase access to music education. The writing of a new mission statement initiated a process of reflection and dialogue that culminated in an understanding that the two objectives were not mutually exclusive but highly complementary.
Two years later, SDYS began the League of American Orchestra’s “Institutional Vision Program.” This three year training and practical application of the Jim Collins “Good to Great” framework solidified the full board’s commitment to a shared vision and belief in the importance of investing equally in “excellence” and “access.” The establishment of the vision to “Make Music Education Accessible and Affordable for All” was the culmination of the process to bring the board into full unity.
The board realized a strong connection exists between SDYS and the state of music education in schools when it examined the demographics of the students enrolled in the organization’s traditional youth symphony program. The majority of those students came from affluent communities where children have access to music education in elementary school. Children who did not have access to music education in elementary school were not participating in SDYS’s programs. Understanding this fact led to the board’s commitment to use its resources to influence the state of music education in San Diego County. Most of the county’s public schools in low-income areas had stopped investing in music education during the school day.
The board was so solid in its vision and strategy that it remained steadfast when several of the part-time artistic faculty and a small number of very vocal parents from the traditional youth symphony program objected. They were concerned that SDYS had diminished its commitment to “excellence” in favor of “access.” Though the board had unified around the notion that “giving access to excellence” was the path to fulfilling the SDYS mission and vision, faculty from the tradition of exclusivity in music training chose not to accept this new paradigm. The strong divergence of perspective led to the departure of several faculty members and withdrawal of approximately 20 students. However, the board remained resolute in its commitment to the new vision despite these departures.
Once the board had settled on its vision, a strategy for achieving the vision became necessary. The board understood immediately that it was unrealistic for SDYS to build the capacity and infrastructure to provide music education to the hundreds of thousands of students in San Diego County not receiving it. Creating such an infrastructure could only be achieved if it duplicated the existing public school system capacity to deliver educational experiences to every child. Instead, the board decided the quickest path to fulfilling its vision was to convince the county’s public school systems to provide in-school music and partner with them to make it happen.
The board started from the belief that school districts have the resources and capacity to deliver music education but don’t make music a priority. SDYS set out to influence school districts to invest in music education by launching the Community Opus Project. The Opus Project piloted a free after-school instrumental music instruction program for third-graders in the Chula Vista Elementary School District so that both school administrators and parents could witness the value learning music delivers to children. In this way, the board saw advocacy as the overall purpose of SDYS’s Community Opus Project.
Advocacy is now written into SDYS’s strategic framework as one of five principal activities. In the framework, it is defined as “Community Action” because in addition to exerting advocacy influence itself, the board aims for SDYS to galvanize community stakeholders, other partners, and parents to serve as advocates for in-school music education.
The community action work includes a robust community relations campaign involving numerous performances by Opus students throughout the community to build awareness of the benefits of music education and rally supporters. Opus students have performed before the city council, school board, parent committees, and local service organizations. Opus parents, who were encouraged to engage in the Opus lessons and attend school board meetings, have become powerful advocates for in-school music. The SDYS board now speaks of its success in terms of the systemic change it is achieving with school districts in addition to the individual change it is achieving with the student musicians in its programs.
Within the first year of SDYS’s Community Opus Project providing music instruction at no cost to third-graders in two schools within the Chula Vista School District, the positive effects of learning music were so apparent that the district asked SDYS to expand the program to serve more students and provided funding to help make the expansion possible. In the second year, the district asked for an expansion to in-school music, and, in the third year, it committed to returning the music education program that had been eliminated 15 years earlier to all schools. The district has already hired full-time music teachers for eight of its 45 campuses and plans to hire more each year until in-school music is available for all of its 29,000 students. SDYS continues to provide after-school instruction and support the restoration of in-school music for the district. SDYS now also works with several other school districts in the region to support and guide their efforts to return music to their schools.
Advocates with a 15,000-Pound Mission
“100 elephants are illegally poached every day in Africa —that’s one every 15 minutes. Elephants DC was created to end the trade of ivory worldwide, to end the devastation this has had on the largest land mammal on our planet. Elephants can’t standup and advocate for themselves — that’s our job. We seek to be the voice of elephants at the table, to BE the elephant in that room.”
– Mike Paredes, vice president, Elephants DC
The Starting Point
In October of 2013, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which rescues baby elephants orphaned in the bush of Kenya when their parents are slaughtered by poachers, organized an International March for Elephants in cities around the world. National Geographic called it, “the first global march for another species in the history of humankind,” and it sought to involve the global community in saving the elephant from extinction. It was that call-to-action that spurred hundreds of people — people who care about the welfare of elephants — to gather on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. to march for elephants. After meeting that day, four of those advocates created Elephants DC, an organization dedicated to elephant well-being and to ending the ivory trade world-wide.
As a nascent, grass-roots, all-volunteer organization, Elephants DC has four officers that oversee policy and a constellation of advocates who support the organization and its work by spreading the word through blogging and attending conference calls, government functions, protests, and in-person meetings. It has become increasingly clear to the founders that incorporation as a 501(c)(3) with a governing board is required to properly do the work that must be done for elephants, which they are now pursuing.
The U.S. is the second largest ivory market the world. Though “new ivory” is banned in the U.S., it is very easy to make new ivory look old, which is resulting in the continued trade of new ivory. A recent, study found that 100,000 wild elephants were slaughtered for their ivory tusks between 2010 and 2012, leaving only 300,000 to 400,000 elephants remaining in the world.
Elephant poaching also is a national security issue, with ivory revenue from illegal commercial poaching and the selling of tusks funding terrorist organizations, such as Al-Queda, Janjaweed, and the Lords Resistance Army.
Elephant conservation also helps local people in Africa by promoting the photographic safari tourism industry and helping preserve the African ecosystem.
“A sad tipping point was just reached,” says Paredes. “More wild elephants are being poached than are being born. Elephants DC wants ivory banned in all 50 U.S. states and around the world. The organization won’t stop working for elephants until they are not only surviving in the wild, but thriving, without the threat of a poacher hiding behind the next acacia tree.”
Elephants DC’s strategy is to be present at key local, regional, and national meetings pertaining to the ivory trade, begin recruiting ambassadors in states across the US, and fundraise. Its message focuses on three key means of ensuring elephant well-being: political advocacy; education; and awareness.
The current White House administration created the Federal Advisory Council on Wildlife Trafficking to address the serious issue of a $19 billion trade with the potential of serious national security risks. DC Elephants has been at each meeting, educating government experts about the ivory trade and the effects it has on the elephant population.
The organization also is planning its first fundraiser and the second International March for Elephants in D.C.; has created the “E is for Elephant” campaign (a portable curriculum that is sent to teachers) to educate children in the classroom; is developing a “Ranger Program’ to reward those rangers working in Africa who help protect elephants and the ecosystem that elephants require to thrive.
And, a source of much pride, Elephants DC played a key role in the recent passing of a law to ban ALL domestic commercial trade of ivory and rhino horn in New Jersey (NJ). It is the strongest state law in the country to protect elephants. Through advocacy and networking, the organization identified, approached, and secured the support of a NJ senator to sponsor the law in the state senate. “We quickly met an assemblyman who sponsored the assembly version of the bill. We partnered with larger nonprofits, such as the NJ chapter of the Humane Society and Born Free USA for support. And in record time, through efforts to educate the NJ public involving direct outreach and getting NJ antique dealers on board, the bills passed overwhelmingly. The final victory was Governor Chris Christie signing the bill into law.
“It took one phone call — just one phone call — to start a conversation with a state senator that ended with the governor signing this bill. We are extremely proud of the leadership that New Jersey took and are working hard for the adoption of these strict laws in every state,” says Paredes.