Good Things Happen When Nonprofits Advocate for Change

By October 10, 2014Foundation Blog

Housing

BY DARIELLE DANNEN, POLICY DIRECTOR FOR THE METROPOLITAN CONSORTIUM OF COMMUNITY DEVELOPERSHomes for All

The Metropolitan Consortium of Community Developers (MCCD) is a membership organization of community developers, over half who are nonprofit affordable housing developers engaged in the preservation and creation of affordable housing throughout the Twin Cities metro area. Our members have been doing legislative policy work since our organization’s inception, 25 years ago. Our policy work in the area of affordable housing advocacy has gained significant traction over the last three legislative sessions through a large coalition called Homes for All. Homes for All is an alliance of over 100 different organizations, the majority who are nonprofits, that seek to develop and advocate for common policy initiatives leading to stable and affordable housing. The Homes for All Supporters include school districts, unions, Home for All collageaffordable housing developers, homeless service providers, housing authorities, and mental health providers. The Jay and Rose Phillips Family Foundation of Minnesota has supported the organizing and advocacy efforts of a number of the Homes for All supporters, including MCCD, from the beginning and continues to be a great partner in our advocacy work.

Through Homes for All’s policy work, advocates successfully helped increase state investments in affordable housing development and supportive services by over $170 million in the last three years. And, we have grown legislative and constituent champions along the way.

Our efforts have been bipartisan, statewide and fun! Check out the photo collage of some of the advocacy work of Homes for All supporters over the past year. See tweets and more pictures from the 2014 legislative session here!

I can’t stress enough how important it is for nonprofits to be deeply involved in advocacy efforts. Nonprofits have on-the-ground knowledge about the needs of the communities they serve, and often can directly involve low income communities in policy making through their advocacy efforts.

The supporters of Homes for All created a multitude of ways that people could plug into the campaign to advocate. Almost 10,000 people were part of the campaign in 2014 from across the state and had constituent contacts with lawmakers from over 90% of the state.

The organizations involved are incredibly collaborative and coordinate our messaging, media presence and constituent outreach strategies. We run Homes for All with three teams: Policy, Communications and Community Engagement. Each of the teams is equally important for our successful advocacy. To succeed:

  • The policy team needs to continually cultivate relationships with individual lawmakers to garner support for our policy agenda, and to share this information so advocacy efforts can be strategically targeted.
  • The community engagement team needs to help design and implement creative ways for people across the state to engage in Homes for All in a strategic way.
  • The communications team needs to continue to raise our issues in large and small media publications so lawmakers see, hear, and understand how important housing is.

We need all three teams to work together to ensure that there is coordinated language across organizations and throughout the state so lawmakers get a simple and consistent message about the action that we are urging. For the 2014 session, Homes for All’s big message was to support $100 million in bonds for housing, which was funded in the 2014 bonding bill.

Some of the key lessons we have learned advocating through Homes for All are:

  • Coordinated fact sheets and handouts
    • Consistent, constant, and concise messaging about our issues. Creativity is strongly encouraged, but fact sheets, constituent handouts and the Homes for All logo are used by all of the Campaign supporters when talking with lawmakers, and help magnify our message.
  • Coordinated Days on the Hill
    • We planned different organizational days on the hill that happened at least weekly throughout session. At different days on the hill, constituents shared the same fact sheets and used the same messaging. As a result, most lawmakers were talking with constituents in person weekly about bonding for housing. Check out pictures and tweets from one Homes for All supporter’s Day on the Hill here.
  • Branding + Fun
    • Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity made an investment in bright green t-shirts with Homes for All logos on them for their advocates, leading one lawmaker to remark that there was always a sea of green at the Capitol! You can see them in action here along with their Housing Hero who helped to connect advocates with lawmakers.

Now that the election season is upon us, the organizations involved with Homes for All are working hard to make sure housing is one of the issues discussed by candidates. It is essential that we start educating candidates early about our issues, and that we keep housing at the front of lawmakers’ minds even when the legislature is not in session. Here’s a few ways we are doing this:

  • Registering people to vote
  • Training community members to educate lawmakers about a subject (in this case, housing)
  • Preparing press opportunities for when housing bonding dollars are awarded
  • Educating candidates about our issues
  • Recruiting volunteers to join our advocacy networks
  • Developing and distributing reverse door knockers for advocates so they can educate candidates on the issues when the candidates come door knocking
  • Issue-based stickers (I’m voting for housing) to be worn at events to help elevate housing as an issue to candidates

Nonprofits can make a huge difference in the lives of the people they serve by getting involved in legislative advocacy efforts. Our organizations are experts in the needs of the communities we serve and have deep connections with people who are not usually part of the political process. As nonprofits, we can use this experience and these relationships to build powerful political movements that can fundamentally improve the political process in Minnesota. In our case, Homes for All’s work has increased constituent engagement in the political process, broadened the affordable housing opportunities and services available, and enlightened lawmakers to the importance of housing in their communities.

 Darielle Dannen has been working on issue-based campaigns for over ten years, and has advocated for such broad issues as anti-equity stripping laws, foreclosure reform, tenant’s rights, tenant condo conversion protections, the Minneapolis Affordable Housing Trust Fund, and for the last three years Homes for All’s legislative agenda. Through her campaign experience, she has a good handle on how to build and oversee a successful campaign, but continues to learn from her peers every day.