For many years, Treehouse took a traditional social service approach to achieving its mission. While those services addressed significant gaps in both the child welfare and school systems, Treehouse realized it could not improve youth outcomes through direct services alone. Advocacy was required to persuade elected officials, agency leaders, and practitioners that there was a better way for child welfare and school districts to function and collaborate so that children and youth in foster care could experience educational and life outcomes equivalent to their peers. Staff leadership worked with board leadership to form a policy and advocacy committee to lead the board in setting and achieving the organization’s advocacy goals. The committee chairs partnered with staff to provide training to the full board on allowable advocacy activities and how to advocate in person and via phone, email, and social media. As a result of these efforts, Treehouse has accomplished much in the past 15 years. Recent successes include advocating for the passage of a bill in 2015 and 2016 bill that established the legislature’s intent to make the state of Washington first in the nation for high school graduation and college enrollment and college graduation. The bill also aligned educational support services contracts with the state education agencies rather than the child welfare agency, and laid the groundwork for significant expansion of education programs for foster youth statewide.
Five years ago, Vermont Afterschool Inc. focused its energies on supporting quality improvements and changes in afterschool programming solely through a professional development and training lens. Advocacy was not something it had the experience, funding, or structure to support. That changed during a stratetic planning meeting when advocacy was identified as key to moving the needle in a significant way. That epiphany led the board to stand up for its mission by working to increase access to afterschool and summer learning programs across Vermont — particularly for children, youth, and families living in poverty and in underserved areas of the state — through advocacy. There have been many successes but the board’s commitment was put to the test when a key funder of Vermont Afterschool Inc. opposed a funding bill proposed by the House Education Committee and supported by Vermont Afterschool Inc. The funder asked Vermont Afterschool Inc. to drop its support of the bill and discontinue its advocacy efforts, going so far as to say it would pull its funding of the organization if it did not do so. After much deliberation, the board unanimously decided to follow its mission and continue its advocacy efforts. It was a clarifying moment for the organization.
ArtsFund, Seattle, WA
Abode Communities, Los Angeles, CA
Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc. (CLINIC), Silver Spring, MD
Children First/Communities In Schools of Buncombe County, NC
Downtown Cleveland Alliance, Cleveland, OH
Indiana Afterschool Network, Indianapolis, IN
LGBT Center OC, Santa Ana, CA
Westchester Children’s Association, White Plains, NY
While advocacy has always been a pillar of its mission, ArtsFund was spurred to action in 2015 when the Washington State Legislature passed a bill allowing cities and counties to levy a tax in support of access to nonprofit arts, science, and heritage organizations. ArtsFund supported the bill’s passage for nearly a decade, and with its long-awaited approval came the opportunity to substantially increase funding for cultural organizations in its county should voters approve it by ballot initiative. To act on this opportunity, however, ArtsFund realized that it needed more focused board leadership and support around advocacy. In response, the board formed a board-led advocacy and policy committee, which enabled the organization to restore advocacy as a mission priority and expand its influence and impact. While the ballot initiative ultimately was defeated by a narrow margin, it energized the board and organization and was followed by a successful Seattle Mayoral Forum on Arts and Funding. Due to these efforts, ArtsFund is now considered a go-to counsel for policy decisions and viewed as a leader in Seattle’s cultural sector.
The housing affordability crisis is very real in Los Angeles County, as the need for affordable housing has outpaced the production of new affordable homes for more than a decade. By 2012, there was a shortfall of almost 500,000 homes available to the county’s very low- and extremely low-income households. That is when Abode Communities, a nonprofit focused on affordable housing, decided it must commit more of its resources to policy and advocacy efforts to increase awareness of and bring much needed resources to the work of producing and preserving housing for low-income Angelinos. With the help of a fully engaged board — and, in particular, a board policy and advocacy plan — and in partnership with other trade and membership organizations, Abode Communities provided support to defeat a local ballot measure that would have halted the production of residential development in the City of Los Angeles; pass a statewide housing legislative packet aimed at the production of affordable housing in 2017, including the placement of a housing bond on the state ballot in 2018; and preserve key housing programs in the recent tax reform bill at the federal level.
The past year has brought dramatic shifts in the nation’s immigration policies and enforcement priorities. As a result, CLINIC — a nonprofit that has been protecting and promoting the dignity of immigrants for 30 years in partnership with 330 community-based agencies around the country — has increasingly relied on its board members to lead its advocacy efforts at the federal and local levels. By developing a template for coordinated strategies related to advocacy, making valued connections at the local and state levels, and leading delegations to Washington, DC, and Haiti, CLINIC’s board members have been able to make an impact when and where it is most needed by the organization and its constituents. Successes include the reversal of deportation orders, an extension of temporary protected status (TPS) for Haitian immigrants, and protecting the jobs of Haitian TPS holders.
The research is clear: There is a link between economic hardship and children’s future health and education success. This is why Children First/Communities In Schools of Buncombe County has engaged in policy advocacy since its founding. However, it was during a 2007 strategic planning process that the board committed to strengthening its commitment to advocacy by developing additional infrastructure and capacity for policy advocacy and decision making. The result is a renewed culture of advocacy in the organization over the past decade. Specifically, the board and organization invested in a fulltime advocacy staff member and has increased funding to sustain it, launched of a local initiative that engages other nonprofits in policy work, increased dollars available in its county for those utilizing the state’s child care subsidy program, passed legislation raising the age of adult sentencing in North Caroline to 18 years of age, changed city policies pertaining to affordable housing, increased local bus service hours and routes, expanded the county’s summer meals program, and more. By expanding access to meet basic needs, economic mobility, and healthy early years, Children First’s advocacy has enabled it to impact more lives than its direct services can reach.
Advocacy has been an inherent part of Downtown Cleveland Alliance’s mission since day one, but as essential state and federal programs continued to be put on the chopping block, the board realized it needed to be more strategic about its advocacy. So it organized an advocacy committee. Composed of board members, government officials, and downtown stakeholders, the committee meets at least quarterly to strategize how to spread the Alliance’s message to the governing bodies responsible for the fate of programs essential to its mission and encourage its constituents to do the same. As a result, the Alliance has achieved several significant victories, including helping establish and protect the Ohio Historical Preservation Tax Credit. The Downtown Cleveland Alliance board has helped amplify the organization’s mission and strategy, and make a significant difference not only within the organization, but in the Downtown Cleveland community at large.
According to the Afterschool Alliance’s 2014 “Indiana After 3 PM Report,” only 11 percent of K-12 Indiana youth are participating in afterschool programs. Yet, 31 percent of parents of children not in afterschool would attend programs if they were available, affordable, and accessible. In spite of the urgent need for quality afterschool programs in Indiana, the state invests less than two million dollars in out-of-school time (OST). Due to this funding lapse, the Indiana Afterschool Network has prioritized strategic initiatives focused on seeking greater investment in OST programs by moving policy and cultivating champions, and improving program quality by strengthening programs and staff. As part of these strategies, the Network has been strategically and successfully building relationships and pursuing state legislation to increase the quality of and access to OST programs across the state of Indiana. Successes include the passage of a bill establishing the Indiana Out of School Learning Advisory Board, which is tasked with researching and advising on state-level afterschool funding, and highlighting the benefits of OST programs in the recently approved Indiana Every Student Succeed Act.
In the 2015-2016 California Healthy Kids Survey, 10.3 percent of LGB youth and 21.2 percent of Trans youth in Orange County, California, reported feeling unsafe or very unsafe, compared to 4.1 percent of non-LGB and 4.3 percent of non-Trans youth. Persistent statistics like these over the course of the LGBT Center OC’s existence is why the center — with the full support and participation of its board — includes advocacy for a more equitable, welcoming, and culturally competent and accepting spaces for LGBTQ youth in schools as a central part of its mission and work. By sharing their personal mission-related stories and never wavering in their commitment to advocacy, board members have helped the organization stand up for LGBTQ youth in the past as well as now, when they are feeling less accepted than ever due to the recent turn to conservatism at the federal level of the government. To date, key successes have included changing policies and implementing staff training at several school districts in Orange County, acquiring the support of the Association of California School Administrators for a conference for school superintendents and administrators on LGBTQ youth, and training youth to become their own advocates.
Until last spring, New York State was one of only two states that charged 16-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system. Knowing that youth involved in this system are often denied supports and services that can help them learn from their mistakes and often become further disconnected from society as a result of incarceration, Westchester Children’s Association (WCA) set about to reduce the number of youth who were involved in the criminal justice system and raise the age at which young people are adjudicated in court. It committed to leading the charge in Westchester County and joined a statewide effort that resulted, in April 2017, in the New York state legislature voting to raise the age of criminality from 16 to 18. This legislative success would not have been possible without the connections, engagement, and passion of WCA’s board members, who consistently used their personal connections to make an impact where staff could not. And, as a result of these efforts, the board has raised WCA’s profile throughout New York state and Westchester County.