06/23/2015 09:09 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Volunteers as a Powerful Tool for Advocacy

Imagine getting invited to a big party, the excitement of getting ready, the anticipation of seeing all your friends and family. But when you walk in something feels a little weird, then your dad tells you this party is actually a wedding, in fact it's your wedding. You're only 15 and trying to get an education, but unbeknownst to you this party that was once exciting is now the end of your dreams. This was one of the many stories that inspired me to take action.

My articles have focused on more traditional hands on volunteering, but recently I became involved in the We Believe Campaign with American Jewish World Service (AJWS). As I started this post I was at an advocacy program in Washington D.C. to lobby for the International Violence Against Woman Act (IVAWA), an important bill that provides help to women from around the world, just like the woman from the story above. The campaign uses a combination of paid lobbyists and volunteers working together to pass IVAWA and make change happen.

This experience has been so rewarding that I wish it on other people, and the campaign has also been successful enough that I would encourage agencies who have thought about trying this work to go for it. Before you start working with volunteers on advocacy there are a few things to consider.


· Specific and winnable goals - Just like with hands on opportunities people love to see the difference that they are making, same idea with advocacy. You are not going to be successful with volunteers if they feel like what they are doing is unachievable or too far in the future to take action on now. Pick a bill or other advocacy item that is happening now or in the near future, have a clear focus on where advocacy efforts should be focused and a timeline for it to be completed.

· Share powerful stories - When teaching volunteers to lobby statistics are ok, but the real power is in the stories your volunteers can tell. Share stories with your volunteers in any way possible, by text, through your own storytelling or by the best way; firsthand experience. Take your volunteers to see your work and who the movement will help. They will have individual, personal and powerful stories to tell their electeds.

· Make it about the people participating - One of the reasons we use volunteers for any task is for their specific talents and connections. Make sure you ask what they can do to help the campaign. Do they like to write? Maybe they can send in an op-ed. Do they have a connection to a local elected official? Do they make short films? Do they lead a group were they have influence? Do they have a big home to host an event? Not only will this help your cause, but your volunteers will feel empowered knowing they bring something special to the cause and they will have a specific next action step to fulfill.

· Support your volunteers - Now that you know what they can help with, make sure you support them. This could be by training or hands on help. Make sure volunteers are well versed in the ask, provide some exercises to practice. Proof read and edit articles volunteers are writing, create the invitation for an event someone is hosting in their home, and so on. Provide the training and supplies for advocacy the same way you would with a tutoring project.

· Remember the call to action - The worst thing, like in any volunteer opportunity, is that people want to help but they are not given a task. Have clear action steps and goal deadlines.

Like any good advocate I will end with a call to action; read this article and discuss the new possibilities with others in your office. Take your volunteers to the next level.