Staff advocacy is typically not part of an executive director or program manager’s strategy to increase support and funding for their youth programs. But not using this strategy hinders the public’s awareness of the importance of Youth Intervention and a program’s ability to build to capacity.
For any youth-serving program to be successful, earning direct or indirect support from local policy makers is critical. By encouraging staff to become advocates for their work, youth work leaders can use the tried and true power of “word of mouth”. Implementing a staff advocacy strategy will ultimately place programs, employees, and outcomes in the front and center of policy discussions in their communities.
Staff advocacy works because:
- It’s putting a face to the problem: Connecting at the local level brings Youth Intervention down to a personal level and moves the conversation beyond facts and figures. Because it’s personal, there is a level of trust; a key factor in having a message be accepted is trust.
- It’s local: Youth Intervention advocates from the community can tell the local story, which increases the likelihood a program will be accepted and supported. Using a local framework helps people understand how it directly affects them.
- It’s sustainable: With staff as advocates, your program won’t get lost in the shuffle as community trends shift. Trust and support of a program erodes over time unless there is continued effort to keep awareness of Youth Intervention front and center.
- It’s built on two-way communication: Listening to the needs and concerns of the community is just as important as advocating for Youth Intervention. As a leader in the field, you need to know your community’s concerns and the solutions the community believes will work best.
- It’s reciprocated: Staff advocates while raising awareness of your program are also raising awareness of Youth Work overall. In essence, each organization’s advocacy efforts are reciprocated.
Too often managers think that a sustained marketing and advertising campaign is the answer. But that is an expensive strategy. Additionally, marketing and advertising campaigns are typically not locally driven and often fall short of producing the outcomes you want. As community ambassadors for your program, your staff can produce those desired outcomes without taking away significant financial resources from your direct services.
Until program managers everywhere adopt a staff advocacy strategy, we will continue to lack widespread support for Youth Work. Clearly, there are not enough services for our youth living in trauma. Results from the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study indicate that about 16% of youth have at least two childhood traumas. You know firsthand that your program lacks the resources needed to have maximum impact on the young people in your community.
Letting youth fall through the cracks does not benefit anyone. Using Minnesota as an example, we will spend billions on Adult Intervention instead of spending millions on Youth Intervention. We need to build capacity.
If you would like to provide a basic advocacy training for your staff, the Youth Intervention Programs Association (YIPA) offers a free online training called How to be a Good Advocate for Youth.
Paul Meunier is the Executive Director of the Youth Intervention Programs Association (YIPA)