By Guest Blogger, Monica Reid
So you are active in your community. You mentor the youth, you organize food drives for your church, you are a leader in your perspective organization who ensures that the needs of the community are being met. But do you incorporate advocacy into your community service and philanthropic efforts? If your answer is no, my question for you is…why not?
Incorporating advocacy can only elevate the issues and causes important to you. According to a recent report “African American Millennials: Discovering the Next Generation of Black Philanthropy for the Effective Communication & Engagement of Non-Profit Organizations,” only 22% of black millennials surveyed are engaged in political advocacy.
Advocacy aims to influence public policy and resource allocation decisions within political, economic, and social systems and institutions. In short, it is when community service meets government. At all levels of government, our elected officials are making legislative and budgetary decisions that can positively or negatively impact the organizations and causes we care most about. If mentoring and other youth enrichment programs are near and dear to your heart, then consider writing a letter to your local elected official or testifying at a public hearing on the need for these programs in the community. Stay abreast on your localities budget process, especially during these tough fiscal years when the government has to make a lot of hard decisions concerning the programs they fund. If you find a particular program on the chopping block, don’t stay silent. They need to hear from you!
Here are four ways to engage your elected officials:
- Letters/written communication – It is believed that approximately 20 letters or emails are needed in order to get the attention of elected officials. Personal stories are more effective than mass mailings, so make sure you tell your story.
- Face-to-face meetings – Many organizations organize advocacy days with their local, state or federal government (i.e., Zeta Day on the Hill). If you are new to advocacy, consider participating in one of these organized events. Face-to-face meetings are one of the most effective ways to engage your elected officials.
- Calls – If you are unable to physically meet and you want to make sure you can make your voice is heard, consider calling the office of your elected official. Don’t become disheartened if you cannot reach your elected official. Share your concerns with the legislative assistant and the information will make to the appropriate person.
- Testifying at public hearings – Many local jurisdiction will host public hearings to get the feedback of the community. The average time is 3 minutes per speaker. But this is enough time to share your concerns or offer an innovative idea to address societal ills.
Interested in getting more involved in government but not sure where to start? Consider signing up to receive updates from you local jurisdiction and elected officials. This is an easy way to stay abreast on what is going on and you’ll be the first to know when a hearing or town hall is being held. You can also get involved in local organizations who are engaged in advocacy, including the Northern Virginia Urban League Young Professionals Network, the Greater Washington Urban League Young Professionals Network (Thursday Network) or the Northern Virginia (NOVA) Coalition.
By adding an advocacy component, you can prominently place the causes and programs of interest to you at the forefront of the minds of our leaders.
Monica Reid, a graduate of George Mason University where she received a B.A. in Government & International Politics and Economics and a Masters in Public Administration, has been a leading force behind social and civic awareness for a number of years. A dedicated public servant and a government relations professional with over 8 years of professional experience, Monica has worked to promote civil awareness, political engagement and advocacy throughout the Washington Metropolitan Region. Follow her at @itsmonicareid