By Guest Blogger: Nicole Newman
I’m going to paint a picture, so indulge me for a minute. You lead an active life. You’re involved in your community. You go to religious services. You’re in a fraternity or a sorority. You give back. You volunteer. It’s important to you and a part of your life. However, you’re not seeing the return for your effort. The shelter you serve dinner at needs more beds. The mentoring program you work with has more youth than mentors. The money you donate goes along way but the needs are ever increasing.
And because you care you want to figure out what’s next. Do I volunteer more? Do I give more?
Well, I’m here to save the day.
The problems communities face tend to be systemic. Widespread poverty, homelessness, and a host of other issues are never really solved through a one-tiered approach. It makes an impact but in order to fundamentally change things we need to approach the problem as it is: multi-faceted.
Here’s the question for us- philanthropic-minded young people:
How do we turn our volunteerism into something bigger? Something that has more of an impact?
I introduce to you…(drum roll please)…Advocacy. When I say that a lot of people pause and say, ‘I’m no expert on the issue’ or ‘I don’t really know policy.’ They imagine meetings with congressman in a smoky press club trading votes for steak dinners. That’s not the type of policy I’m talking about. What I am talking about is making your voice heard.
It takes only a little to do a lot. Engage in the local community. Translate you volunteer experience into congressional testimony or into a meeting with your council member or local elected official. Often time’s public officials hear stories of people who have a vested interest in whatever they are talking about. They hear from leaders of non-profits, advocates for homeless services and business people, but they need to hear from you. Your experience is meaningful and the stories you tell about what you have seen through your volunteer efforts could be the tipping point.
You have made the commitment to do good, now take it further. We can talk about change all we want, but if we aren’t engaged in influencing policy, it’s just a good deed.
Here are 5 practical things you can do to advocate for your cause:
1. Meet with you elected officials
2. Testify before the city council
3. Utilize social media to spread the word about an issue you care about
4. Author an op-ed
5. Get plugged into local campaigns and advocacy activities around issue you care about
We all have something to add to the debate. Your unique position as a young, community-minded professional adds something new to the debate around funding and resource allocation in communities. Make sure you use it.
Young professionals often want to do more, but don’t have a platform to make a difference. Many struggle with being “transplants” and not knowing how or where to go to plug into their local community- but now you do! Engaging in advocacy can and will change how you approach your work. Try it. You will see how that can make a lasting impact.
Nicole Newman is an Associate at Defeat Poverty DC. As an AmeriCorps Vista Alum, she has spent time working in local non-profits getting hands on experience in providing service, building coalitions , coordinating volunteer service and working in development and community organizing. She is a deputy board member of Capital Cause, member of the National Council for Negro Women as well as a Girl Scout Troop Leader. She also serves on the Washington Interfaith Network’s Core Team at Luther Place Memorial Church and is an active member at Norbeck Community Church where she coordinates community service.